Man, evolution, and magic
From Volume IV of The Dramatic Universe
Since we have commented today on Robert Wright’s debunking of shamans I thought it would be amusing to cite Bennett’s take on shamans,
and the early appearance of ‘magic’ in primitive human species (not so primitive, a lot like us).
Bennett adopts an exotic and extreme version of the ‘design’ argument: much of the task of evolution is assisted by ‘demiurgic intelligences’, beings of pure ‘will’ with no physical bodies. This notion, which comes off as science fiction, is actually a derivative of Bennett powerful schema of ‘being function will’.
Whatever the case, I don’t endorse Bennett’s view here, but as a Darwin critic he is one of the most devastating because he adopts a constructive approach to human evolution and the question of consciousness. The idea of the spontaneous evolution of human consciousness (which Darwinists have never demonstrated, to say the least) thus becomes problematical.
In any case, I cannot say I endorse these views at all, but I do find them a challenge in the sense that the current regime of scientism is simply in an imaginary universe.
Bennett’s take on ‘magic’ could be wrong, but it still reminds us that there is something hard to explain about the outstanding traditions of magid, so-called.
Before we leave the childhood of mind, we must try to picture the way the Demiurgic Intelligences operated. They could not communicate with men except through the channel of mind and body. We have already decided that in the previous stage, when teaching was by Example and Imitation, the Demiurges had, first of all, to enter the newly created minds and teach them how to work. The same procedure at the second stage, where we now are, would not succeed unless means were found of impressing new ideas upon the already humanized minds. This was the origin of Magic.
All authorities agree that magic was the earliest cultural agent in human life: but no one can explain how magic started. It is simply ridiculous to suggest that the thought of claiming magical powers popped into the mind of some gifted Neanderthal youngster. One must make a determined effort to visualize the situation. Hunters are notoriously superstitious: why not Neanderthal hunters? Why should they not have had, spontaneously, notions of sympathetic magic and only later have looked among themselves for a suitable operator to perform the rites. Again, this is obvious nonsense. It is totally impossible to picture the origin of magic except through some deliberate action of a man who knew what he was doing and why. This does not mean that we are forced ~o believe in magic-it may all be infantile superstition-but the point IS that no Neanderthal man, or any other man, could have stumbled on the idea unaided. ‘*’ Those who think otherwise merely project their own mentality on to that of men who had no antecedent experience remotely 5embling our own. The evidence, which seems conclusive, that magic )peared before modern man, is as clear a proof as we can hope to find lat some higher intelligence intervened. The continuity of history hat we have observed all through our studies, requires that this inter¬lention should not have been made arbitrarily at one point only. It must have accompanied man throughout his slow march to the attain¬ment of Individuality. So far, then, from appearing as an inexplicable aberration, Magic is seen to be a necessary means for action by the Demiurgic Intelligence.
The technique is almost obvious. Demiurgic Intelligences took pos¬session of selected youths; and, by demonstrating magical powers¬such as predicting the weather and the movements of the herds on which the tribes depended for their food-were able to gain an ascendancy over the tribe. We have to this day, distant memories of this social structure in the Shamans of Siberia. There is good reason to believe that all stages of past history are reflected into the present. * The shaman and his followers believe that, by certain ritual practices, he can open himself to possession by a Great Spirit whose mouthpiece he becomes for so long as the state of possession persists. Most probably, shamanism has for centuries, if not millennia, become no more than the empty shell of a once authentic mode of action of the Demiurgic Power: though it is also likely that it has been grossly misunderstood by anthropologists.
The first magicians were authentic wonder-workers. They were men like the other men among whom they lived; but they were conscious of their Demiurgic Nature. Here we must recall that the nature of man is three-fold: the higher nature being on the level of the Demiurgic Essence. When the Demiurgic Intelligences entered men-whose minds his own nature and his situation in the world. He must certainly have been deeply conscious of his loneliness and apparent insignificance in a hostile or, at best, indifferent environment, where wit and cunning were his only weapons against the savage forces that sought to destroy him. To placate the wild beasts on which he preyed, and to help him overcome the panic which must often have assailed him when he contem¬plated his own precarious position, it is not surprising that he sought refuge in the supernatural.’ This passage makes no sense at all as an explanation of how it all started It is simply not permissible to say that Neanderthal man was ‘already quite capable of reflecting’ when the problem is to explain how the reflective faculty arose. It is not permissible to use terms like ‘deeply conscious’ or ‘supernatural’ without explaining how man could ever have formed the concept of the natural order, let alone the super¬natural. We do not wish to belittle the admirable achievement of Mr. Carrington in giving an account of man’s arising and development in a single volume. His approach to the subject of the human mind is not better or worse than that of other authorities: all equally miss the central point of explaining the genesis of mind.