Discover more from Don't Forget Yoga with Derek Pashupa Goodwin
Witch Words? Vexing Hexes, A.I., Christianity, and thoughts on thinking.
verb - cast a spell on; bewitch.
noun - a magic spell; a curse.
It was the summer of 2011 and I was housesitting in Massachusetts. A friend had given me a joint that had DMT sprinkled into it, and I was sitting outside on the porch looking out into the verdant vines and foliage of a perfect sunny day. I took several draws on the joint and laid back with my eyes closed, hoping for the blast off into realms of machine elves and exquisite realities I had heard Terrence McKenna talk about.
With my eyes closed I began to experience beautiful colors and sacred geometries, unlike anything I could imagine in normal conscious states. The geometries were turning and twisting, and though they were fascinating I knew that I was not getting the full experience of rocketing into another dimension McKenna often described. I did not get a big enough dose perhaps, and there was a little fear keeping me grounded.
Still, I was having a revelation. The geometries were a wall that I needed to break through to get to the next level, but the wall was not made of visual shapes. I suddenly had an epiphany that the boundary between everyday consciousness and universal awareness was made of words and language.
“In many ways, the brain in the LSD state resembles the state our brains were in when we were infants: free and unconstrained,” ~Robin Cahart-Harris
We come into this world a blank slate, knowing how to cry and suckle but without the patterns of language that transform our reality from immediate urges and objects into the secondhand symbols of mouth noises and eventual written symbols that allow us to communicate our experience. Longing for connection, we learn these symbols as we grow and develop in order to communicate our needs and understand the world around us.
Caught in the Devil’s Bargain
With every word we learn and every sentence we speak, we are trading the felt experience for symbolism. It is an unavoidable aspect of learning language. We are born in specific places and times, and as babies we have no choice in the matter. Arguably, as souls we have no choice in the matter we are born into.
As babies primed for spoken language by evolution, we begin to learn the symbolic mouth noises from our parents and other children and adults around us. Some of these lessons come with intensity and trauma, giving certain words and ideas more power. To become a member of a family, community and culture we gradually give up the open-mindedness of our infant consciousness, and create structures for our thoughts, words and actions.
These structures become the contracts we make with the world. They are truly hexes on our perceptions of reality. Before we have a choice, we have the language of our ancestors, as full of contradictions and misguided notions as it is of useful understanding. We are bound by the stabilities and/or psychoses of our family members. We are under the spell of the culture we are born into. For most of us, we are hexed by faith religions that are deeply flawed and designed to control our minds.
A common spell to break the spirit
I remember a moment in high school, I was walking and singing a song. Someone nearby said “don’t give up your day job,” implying that my voice was not good enough. I took this spell to heart and passed it on to others when I heard them singing, regardless of how pleasant their voices were. This is a common spell, telling someone that they can’t sing well. It seems like a joke, but many of us believe it and give it power. Singing is one of the purest expressions of spirit, and this spell is meant to crush that spirit. Wether intended or not, it comes from a place of jealousy and has kept many of us from being able to express ourselves through song.
Trump and the Art of the Hex
It is hard not to feel discouraged in these times, seeing societies becoming more divided. I have gained some understanding by knowing my mother. She is one of the kindest people I know and my compassion and gentleness certainly were learned from her, but there is another aspect of her psyche that transforms her into a fervent supporter of our president. She comes to this support through her religious faith, a form of born-again Christianity. While the world struggles with climate change, gun violence, war, famine and factory farms, the religious right focuses their energy and resources on ending homosexuality and abortion, which they have convinced their followers are the main evils of our age. Certainly we should have open debates about if and when abortion is justified, but cursing people for their biologically-based sexuality is in no way justifiable, and neither topic is at the top of the list of world problems. I sometimes wish I was born gay so I could be a better teacher for my mother.
My mother was born in Kansas, and like most people born in rural USA in her time, the hex of Christianity was placed at an early age. If she was born in another place she might have been hexed into being a Muslim, a Hindu, a Jew or a Jain. In her place and time she was indoctrinated by her family, culture and community to have the Christian worldview. The hex is deep and cunning, one that only a devil could devise. For within it, there is the spell cast that whoever questions its authority is being influenced by its deepest enemy, Satan. To entertain any other worldview is to be condemned to eternal suffering. The truth might be out there, but to seek it is a sin.
Through similar vexing hexes we are witnessing the Christian religious ‘moral’ majority in the USA supporting the presidency of one of the most immoral humans to ever occupy the job. Vile and divisive words come from his lying mouth daily, words that cast spells on the minds of people already trapped like flies in a web of lies. In the past week we have seen mail bombs sent by a Trump supporter to the president’s critics, and a Jewish synagogue shooting by a Jew-hating psychopath. The president blames the media, his so-called “enemy of the people.” Does he know not what he does?
The Abrahamic religions all evolve from a common beginning, honoring a god who is vengeful and jealous and violent. He is the human ego writ large, much like the president himself. A god created in our image. A hex cast thousands of years ago, refined through the telling of it, manipulated by governments and monarchies, and fed to our children before they have a chance to understand the implications. Christians justify Trump’s lies and hate speech because it furthers their agenda, and his rise to power is even called a biblical mandate by some. The bible foretells of an apocalypse, and the believers work to make it so.
A.I. and the future of hexing
“as machines are getting closer to acquiring human-like language abilities, they are also absorbing the deeply ingrained biases concealed within the patterns of language use.” ~Hannah Devlin
With the rise of artificial intelligence we are ourselves becoming god-like, or at least like the gods in our mythologies. We are creating machines in our image, and teaching them to ‘think’ with our languages.
There is a fear that we will create a machine intelligence that will become self-aware and then decide to destroy us. We know that our actions are creating havoc on the planet, and that a powerful yet rational life form would probably want to mitigate that problem by whatever means necessary. In Hollywood we create new mythologies of Killer A.I., showing our own fears and prejudices.
The clear and present threat posed by A.I. is not that is will wake up, but that it will remain as it is, hexed by the same uses of language that hex us all. Programmed mostly by men, fed data that fills it with racial and gender bias, giving more powerful tools to the spell casting inherent in our own psyches. We now know that social media uses algorithms that divide us by showing us content that reinforces our own beliefs, no matter how flawed.
How to break the spell?
This is the question I ask myself every day. Although I am a person who believes in compassion and equality, I do not claim to be hex proof. Human life is a path that begins with learning what others around us believe. If we are lucky we are given tools to help us dissect that knowledge and realize universal truths. The introspective practices of meditation and the use of psychoactive plant medicines can be powerful techniques for breaking the spells we are under. Sharing our insights with others helps us all refine and move forward.
There are thought leaders attempting to put fail safes into A.I. that will protect us from harming one another and ultimately protect us should machines become self-aware, but we are not putting enough effort into becoming aware of our selves. We are deeply entangled in our own misunderstandings of reality, and our us-versus-them ways of seeing the world. As woke as we intend to be, becoming woke is not an easy process.
The world’s religions are major purveyors of harmful hexes, but as Sam Harris writes in his book Waking Up:
“…I had viewed organized religion as merely a monument to the ignorance and superstition of our ancestors. But I now knew that Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and the other saints and sages of history had not all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds. I still considered the world’s religions to be mere intellectual ruins, maintained at enormous economic and social cost, but I now understood that important psychological truths could be found in the rubble.”
We are at a defining moment in history, with science helping us dissect fact from fiction. Yet without a spiritual wisdom to ground us, scientific understanding can still amplify our worst impulses. We should not throw the baby of spirituality out with the bathwater of religion, but instead learn from these traditions that Love is the true holy grail. I love my mother, as much as I disagree with her worldview. I see the goodness in her soul beyond the harm she supports with her religious views. I don’t expect to change her, but I do hope to offer words to help others change themselves.
The Golden Rule is still golden. Let’s have meaningful debates, talk about things that matter, try to understand where we are each coming from. We must denounce the thoughts, words and actions that divide us and cause harm. We must find it in our hearts to love the sinner, and discredit the sin.