Imaginal Beings and Imagined Realities

I was thinking about the blue fairy. I’m not sure why it was on my mind. In browsing the web, I came across the Wikipedia article on the Púca. They are the Celtic fairy, often portrayed as dark, black, or blue. These beings exist at the crossroads of mind and matter, imagination and reality. They are tricksters.

The Wikipedia article points to something discussed by Robert Anton Wilson. He claimed to have experienced contact with an alien. But epistemological anarchist that he was, he ended up interpreting this experience in numerous ways. Sometimes he just thought of it as one hemisphere talking to the other, which sounds like Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind. He also liked to think of it as a Púca in the form of 6 foot tall rabbit.

I immediately realized that this was the same as John Keel’s men in black (a topic I’ve written about before: Fortean Curiosity). And Keel always brings to mind Jacques Vallée who was initially influenced by Carl Jung’s book on UFOs. Both sought to explain Fortean experiences without recourse to claims about extraterrestrials. Both noted how certain unusual experiences tended to coincide and fall into similar patterns across time and cultures. Men in black, aliens, fairies, etc all were describing the same basic experiences according to the beliefs and biases of the experiencer.

Culture does have immense influence on how we experience all kinds of things. Linguistic relativism shows how perception of time and space are formed through the language we use. This is also true of the voices people hear, that is to say voices without bodies. Tanya Luhrmann found that voice-hearers in collectivist societies tended to have more positive experiences of those voices. By the way, Luhrmann was originally drawn to this field of study by reading Jaynes’ book.

Cultural differences are seen with the fairy and fairy-like encounters. They can be perceived as good, evil, indifferent, or plain weird. Schizophrenics in Western countries, specifically the hyper-individualistic United States, are prone to less than happy hallucinations, auditory and otherwise. Few Westerners are able to access this state of mind without the extremes of stress, such as the Third Man Factor as happens during periods of danger, trauma, and grief. It requires a lot to force the Western mind outside of its thick ego boundaries of self-contained individualism. And the mind, when forced open, sometimes breaks.

There was a comment I saw where someone, an American, described a friend who became schizophrenic. This friend’s hallucinations weren’t only paranoid but also contagious, such as other people began hearing odd sounds on the phone while talking to this guy (something Keel describes as well). As one becomes more paranoid, the evidence justifying paranoia is manufactured or manifested and it can be quite compelling to those involved. To take notice of this Fortean field of consciousness is to have it take notice of you, to be drawn into it. And what you bring to the experience is mirrored back to you (albeit sometimes distorted), at least as experienced within one’s psyche. Jung considered UFO to be a manifestation of psyche, an imaginal expression of a symbol of wholeness. But for the schizophrenic in Western society, there is little social support for wholeness and so the psyche is splintered while simultaneously being obsessively focused, the hallucination becoming intensely real.

This is how cults form and given enough time a religion might get established. There are some interesting books that look into the phenomenon of UFO religions, which show us the early stage of religious formation. Consider Heaven’s Gate, the cult that committed mass suicide, maybe not the best way to ensure the promotion of your religion, but then many religions begin with death or persecution. Interestingly, the Heaven’s Gate leader was inspired by Star Trek. And Gene Roddenberry was in turn inspired to create Star Trek because of the channeling of The Council of Nine. The difference between a schizophrenic and a cult leader is simply a matter of how much charisma one has to command followers (related to what Jaynes refers to as authorization, such as happened with Franz Anton Mesmer).

This is the territory of mass hallucination and shared psychotic disorder (folie à deux). But in a sense, every culture is built on hallucination, that is imagination as social construction and ideological worldview. The only difference with a culture is that it happens to be a highly successful and powerfully compelling hallucination, taking hold of the minds and identities of a large population. All of civilization is an expression and enactment of profound fantasies that possess us, to such an extent we live out those fantasies with the full commitment of our being in the world.

When those fantasies diverge far enough from objective reality, that is when civilizations come to an end, often through following a cultural vision to its extreme. The hallucination of capitalist realism is at present remaking of the global world through climate change and in the end the earth might become uninhabitable for the human species or at the very least not conducive to the continuation of modern civilization as we know it. At the point of potential breakdown, the Fortean has a way of breaking into our world. UFOs, for example, were often observed during periods of mass conflict such as the foo fighters seen during World War II.

The fairy are messengers from our collective psyche, but few of us are capable of listening with a Fortean curiosity to match such Fortean experience. The significance is not what it seems but at the edge of what appears and what is yet to be. Our imagination forever precedes us. There is no objective standpoint to stand outside the flow of what we are becoming. The blue fairy makes our imaginings real, makes our wishes come true or else our fears.

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4/23/18 – Some further commentary:

I left out some background to my thoughts. Recently in the news, there was reporting on a hierarchical sex slave cult. One of the key figures who was a head mistress earlier was an actress in the tv show Smallville. There is something about science fiction, odd belief systems, and cults. That is why I used the example of Star Trek, the Council of Nine, and Heaven’s Gage. But I just as easily could have referred to L. Ron Hubbard’s career, from science fiction writer to cult leader of Scientology. All of UFOlogy, as Keel and Vallee would attest, is mired in science fictions and cultish groups.

More broadly, there is the topic of blue fairies. I lied about not knowing why this was on my mind. I just didn’t feel like connecting back to previous posts, but I decided I should. One of those posts was from earlier in the month (Nature, Nurture, Torture), in which I explore the mythology of the blue fairy in greater detail. My interest goes many years back to the Bush administration (“What is Real?” asked the Rabbit one day…).

That earliest post discussed the psychology and mythology of transformation. Blue fairies are very much about transformation or else destruction, that is to say death of the self in one way or another, a far from easy process or necessarily even desirable considering how many people simply go mad (see John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies). There is a deep longing for what is real and genuine, a gnostic compulsion for Philip K. Dick I might add. This longing can be expressed as a desire to become real, to attain something of real value, or to find ultimate reality itself.

Otherwise, this can be the search for a new reality, to replace what no longer compels or functions. John Keel noted that, during times of difficulty and change, the archetypal and imaginal “men in black” would make their appearance in a guise appropriate to the cultural biases and personal expectations of the individual. The men in black were associated with other sightings, from the Mothman Keel studied to the Foo Fighters of World War II.

Fantasy becomes rather potent during times of threat and instability, whether on the personal level such as the third man factor or on a collective level as seen with some of these other cases. The Mothman was seen by many prior to a bridge collapsing that killed many people. And World War II, of course, killed far more. But it isn’t merely violence that elicits this fantasy-proneness. Others have observed that during periods of social uncertainty, there is a growing popularity of fantasy entertainment. This happened during the Great Depression when movie The Wizard of Oz was a great hit. When troubled, people don’t merely seek escape in fantasy for they also seek to imagine new possibilities through fantasy. And in some cases, this will lead them to start cults or to start revolutions.

We live in troubled times right now. And it stands out how popular fantasy entertainment has been since the 9/11 terrorist attack and continuing beyond the 2008 Great Recession. Some see us as having become lost in Fantasyland, a new post-fact era with a media personality as our president. It’s not entirely new, although maybe new forms of media technology have weaponized fantasy like never before.

About the blue fairy and men in black, it just occurs to me that some of the themes discussed here can be found in HBO’s Westworld, which deals with transformation and makes use of Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind theory. Westworld even has a man in black who, though human, plays a role in the transformation that occurs and the havoc that follows. I doubt it is accidental that a show like that gets made at a time like this nor that it becomes so popular.

Westworld is all about self-awareness and social identity, self transformation and social change. Interestingly, we the viewer come to identify more strongly with the non-humans who, as in the PKD-inspired movie Blade Runner, in a sense become more convincingly real than the humans. It’s the Pinocchio story for an age of advanced science and technology, giving form to a vision of what our world is becoming.