Like many of the once and future articles that dot this personal weblog of mine, this one had its origins in a Twitter thread that I sputtered out like a manic street preacher in a rapture sandwich board, screaming “that’s the missing link!” It would be a shame to let it get banished to the unreachable aether once its time is up, so I reprint it here, expanded and revised.
Demonology is a curious thing. After the Enlightenment, the Christian world had little use for demons other than the demons of the past. A curious phenomenon that has occurred is that renewed interest in demonology frequently goes hand-in-hand with media, and I think it may be the best predictor for belief in it. I couldn’t find an exact source on the book and film of The Exorcist being a specific cause in its resurgence (some sites I read said that the rise of Charismatic Christianity helped fuel the resurgence), but I simply cannot believe that it wouldn’t have played a large role in it. Exorcism was demonstrably on the decline post-Enlightenment, and it was only as mass media technology became more powerful that belief in it began to creep back into the world. The technological phenomenon of hyperreality–that technology and media create a projected reality that is more real than reality–has always been, in my view the gateway of demons.
I’ll let you decide if I’m being metaphorical or literal.
The decline in belief in demonology didn’t mean it simply faded away into the great nothingness, however. The human mind bends toward the supernatural, and wherever orthodoxy is slain something will fill the vacuum. While the 20th century gave us the televised exorcism, the 19th century gave us Spiritualism. The Boston Brahmin Ralph Waldo Emerson was himself fascinated by these spirits of these times, but brought to it his pseudo-Quaker sensibility and lectured on it in Boston in a talk he titled “Demonology”. Despite Emerson representing a spirit of America that would eventually be exhausted–and if you wish to understand the America that ultimately buried itself at Appomattox Courthouse, read Moby Dick, for America was once a ship of colored savages following insane Quakers on doomed quests–he was correct in this lecture to be puzzled by dreams.
He first opened this talk by noting this definition of demonology that he was applying:
“The name Demonology covers dreams, omens, coincidences, luck, sortilege, magic and other experiences which shun rather than court inquiry, and deserve notice chiefly because every man has usually in a lifetime two or three hints in this kind which are specially impressive to him. They also shed light on our structure. “
This covered the Spiritualism that Emerson was meditating on. Emerson saved his greatest astonishment however that we would dream at all because it flies in the face of reason.
“’T is superfluous to think of the dreams of multitudes, the astonishment remains that one should dream; that we should resign so quietly this deifying Reason, and become the theatre of delirious shows, wherein time, space, persons, cities, animals, should dance before us in merry and mad confusion; a delicate creation outdoing the prime and flower of actual Nature, antic comedy alternating with horrid pictures. Sometimes the forgotten companions of childhood reappear.”
For a Unitarian Yankee like Emerson to see the touch of the spiritual in dreams as he does over the course of the essay speaks to the presence that human beings feel for the preternatural and the supernatural in their lives. Dreams are the ultimately the land of the preternatural and the playground of demons. And there is a place on the west coast of America, that transmits its own dreams across the world and where the technology of tomorrow is being built to make those dreams come true.
This is where my thread on demons and technology comes in. Demons are real, but the understanding is incomplete. Before the industrial revolution their warfare was almost entirely spiritual as this was the weakest vector for them to impose themselves upon the world without active summoning.
Things are about to get a little weird, so strap yourselves in.
I promise I’m not completely crazy.
Technology is not understood by 99.9% of the people that use it. Yet it is given freely with zero thought to its consequences. This isn’t even getting into the issue of how the average person is only given tools of little social consequence compared to the levers of tech. Technology does truly amazing things and we are at the point where we are actually messing around with the molecular level of things. The actual fabric of material reality.
The working title of CERN’s FAQ on this stuff was Surreal FAQ.
It is acknowledged that a lot of weird stuff begins to occur when you get to this level of technology. I will not get into the topic of CERN itself and the beliefs around them. I cite them as the simple acknowledgment that reality becomes insecure at that level of technology. Downscale that to the technology that any regular person is allowed to use. There’s nothing to say that reality also doesn’t become insecure at the smaller level. Postmodern philosophers have noted perception and experience takes a beating as society moves toward Ellul’s Technique. The science of technology’s effect on the human body is still nascent. It’s just assumed that it’s all harmless. People resort to hyperbole from either direction to avoid the discussion of the effects technology has on human biology.
We’ve known though that it affects our dreams. Over a decade ago a paper came out that saw a connection between black and white TV and the color of people’s dreams. Those who grew up primarily with grayscale television had grayscale dreams.
12% dreamed only in grayscale.
Dreams have always been one of our connections to the spiritual world, the pathway as it were. I can’t think of a single major group of people in humanity or a tradition of some kind that didn’t put weight into dreams and their connection to a world beyond us. Such is their power that as the seat of prominence that religion once held in societies became weaker and weaker, the psychology of Freud and Jung had no choice but to address it and the deep resonance dreams have for us. Prophecy especially, but you find as well commands within them and to this day people who put stock in their dreams will often see them as commands. The Old Testament is rife with these stories (fifteen to be precise, with six in the New Testament).
Past the testaments however, and the fulfillment of the Covenant in Christ, dreams become a much trickier thing. Saint John Cassian, from whom the Western monastic tradition owes much, warned of the spiritual power and character of dreams:
“It is a long business too to tell the story of the deception of that monk of Mesopotamia, who observed an abstinence that could be imitated by but few in that country, which he had practised for many years concealed in his cell, and at last was so deceived by revelations and dreams that came from the devil that after so many labours and good deeds, in which he had surpassed all those who dwelt in the same parts, he actually relapsed miserably into Judaism and circumcision of the flesh. For when the devil by accustoming him to visions through the wish to entice him to believe a falsehood in the end, had like a messenger of truth revealed to him for a long while what was perfectly true, at length he showed him Christian folk together with the leaders of our religion and creed; viz. Apostles and Martyrs, in darkness and filth, and foul and disfigured with all squalor, and on the other hand the Jewish people with Moses, the patriarchs and prophets, dancing with all joy and shining with dazzling light; and so persuaded him that if he wanted to share their reward and bliss, he must at once submit to circumcision. And so none of these would have been so miserably deceived, if they had endeavoured to obtain a power of discretion. Thus the mischances and trials of many show how dangerous it is to be without the grace of discretion. “
Before we go any further into the spiritual realm however, let’s talk about the philosophy of technology. Jacques Ellul speaks of a concept called Technique, which is the totality of methods that are used to achieve the most efficient end. This is how society becomes technological. Technology doesn’t shape to humans but humans shape to technology. An object to be shaped.
“This new sociological mass structure and its new criteria of civilization seem both inevitable and undeniable. They are inevitable because they are imposed by technical forces and economic considerations beyond the reach of man. They are not the result of thought, doctrine, discourse, will. They are simply there as a condition of fact. All social reforms, all social changes, are located wholly within this condition of fact, unless they are purely utopian. When social change is truly realistic, it accepts this condition buoyantly, vindicates it, and exploits it. Only two possibilities are left to the individual: either he remains what he was, in which case he becomes more and more unadapted, neurotic, and inefficient, loses his possibilities of subsistence, and is at last tossed on the social rubbish heap, whatever his talents may be; or he adapts himself to the new sociological organism, which becomes his world, and he becomes unable to live except in a mass society. (And then he scarcely differs from a cave man.) But to become a mass man entails a tremendous effort of psychic mutation. The purpose of the techniques which have man as their object, the so-called human techniques, is to assist him in this mutation, to help him find the quickest way. to calm his fears, and reshape his heart and his brain.“
Bold emphasis mine.
I point to all of this to make my case that it is acknowledged that technology can have actual effects on the human body and brain, that it shapes people, and that it has the power to affect dreams, the place where Church Fathers have recognized demons can establish dominion. It’s an open secret that many in Silicon Valley limit their own children’s access to technology that they help develop. Note that it’s the educators serving high income children who do not want young children exposed to it.
I find this image to be the most troubling even if it clearly makes the most sense. Being addicted to distracting technology was always meant to be a condition for the lower castes. The brahmin have to keep their wits about them, to be plugged in but not too plugged in. Admittedly, part of this discrepancy in how much technology children from different socioeconomic stratum should be using has the element of educators who are deeply concerned about the state of the poor being able to close the gap and catch up. I wouldn’t prescribe purely malevolent motives to those who want young poor children to be exposed to technology early and often like they’re cackling in a mirror and saying to themselves “I think I’ll do EVIL today!” No, it is the same as it ever was, with the best intentions leading us down to the deepest pits of hell. And within the pit of hell that is this relationship to technology, you find new studies that show 89% of undergraduates reported “phantom vibrations” and brains can become noisier from the techniques that are used to do smart phone and social media posting.
Again, all I am pointing to is that we are shaped by tech. I’ve so far avoided the obvious talking points of the effects digital pornography have on the brain. It’s not anecdotal that digital pornography leads to more fetishes. They are studying it and seeing it creates a greater risk of being into child porn.
“Born this way” is propaganda to avoid having people look into the environmental ways conditions can be induced. No one wants to believe a pedophile can be made by technology. They must all just be born that way or touched by an uncle, right? But technology can shape people. Gay pornography is disproportionately represented in pornography.
“Gay male pornography constitutes a disproportionately large share of the pornography industry; it is estimated that 20-30% of pornography produced is gay male pornography, and this pornography creates 30-50% of the pornography industry’s revenue (Thomas, 2000). Several studies have indicated that gay men consume pornography at a higher frequency than heterosexual men (Duggan & McCreary, 2004; Træen & Daneback, 2013). In addition, gay male pornography is ubiquitous in gay male culture (Thomas, 2000), and some argue that it serves as a form of cultural and sexual validation for gay men (Escoffier, 2003).”
And even at being an average of 25% of the industry, it makes up 30-50% of the revenue. Gay men consume porn more than straight men.
Are we to believe this is simply all nature?
Studies into the role pornography plays reveals that sexuality is influenced by pornography. This is not a matter of “just have a wank”, there is evidence that sexual behavior is shaped by digital pornography (SEM here means Sexually Explicit Media).
“In 2013, young men reported using SEM more frequently; and as compared to women, they regarded the effects of their SEM use as more positive and uncomplicated (Træen & Štulhofer, 2013). Most of them reported that SEM had motivated them to try out new sexual positions and acts, increased their understanding of their sexual orientation, and made them more aware of what they like to do sexually. A recent study of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Norway, also concluded that the frequent consumption of gay SEM seemed to play a positive role in MSM’s sexuality in a similar way (Hald, Smolenski, & Rosser, 2013).“
I don’t think I need to keep connecting the dots here. Technology shapes human beings. It doesn’t just exploit human biology. It has the ability to shape it. It has the capability of altering humanity in many of the places that the mystics and clerics have warned people to guard for. There is obviously no uniform or universal consensus view on demons. I will try to avoid getting into the weeds on this. The common view by 16th century theologians however was that demons were preternatural, not supernatural.
The preternatural occupies that twilight zone between the natural and the supernatural. If the supernatural breaks the natural, then the preternatural simply bends the reality of the natural to its will. This is what I meant earlier about the realm of demons being spiritual. Demonic possession being the most well-known form of the preternatural demon. If you believe in possession, then you believe a preternatural force is imposing its will on a human, shaping their perception of reality and making them mentally ill. The demon shapes the human. Occultists of all stripes view magic as an element of the preternatural. This is why magic is defined by some as a form of bending and shaping reality to your will. The preternatural also pertained to portents, which created a tension the church had to manage and balance.
I joke about technology allowing the interdimensional technodemons, or the Cyber Legion, to take possession of people and steal their soul. But the levels at which humanity is tinkering with the very fabric of reality and the effects that smaller scale technology have on human beings should be considered. In Japanese folklore, the Tsukumogami are tools that have acquired a kami or a spirit. One can imagine technology transcended into having preternatural qualities itself.
Let’s mention a few other cultural things going on, however. Drag queen story hour, Billie Eilish (a seventeen-year-old) singing about seducing your dad in “Bad Girl” and seeming like a demon in “All The Good Girls Go To Hell”.
This is emulation and simulation of demonic behavior.
The accusation can be thrown out every which way that I’m misrepresenting what we see here or that I’m just being the latest in a line of fuddy-duddies who just don’t get how expression works, but there is no bottom to this well that the 21st century has fallen into. And it is not as if painted boys and pederasty are some new development in culture. It happens again and again and again and again. If you’re going to tell me that you truly believe this is benign and you’re not seeing what anyone with eyes see, I don’t believe you.
I will believe though that you’re fine with acquiescing to the new normal.
And the new normal is being created by the effect technology has on reality.
Like television inducing grayscale dreams, all technological media create the phenomena of hyperreality. The very fabric of reality beginning to tear thanks to technology. One could interpret this at the preternatural world beginning to bleed into the natural. Some of my Catholic friends view it as just demonic possession. Hard to say. There’s no consensus on anything like this. What’s simply being mirrored and what’s guided by some malevolent force is all debatable. But people’s reality and biology is being warped by technology. Technology is not inherently demonic. Then again as Clarke said, any form of significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. By contrast collapsitarian John Michael Greer, who has taken a catabolic collapse view of society through the lens of Oswald Spengler and Joseph Tainers, has long posited that the technology of today will be, in a sense, the magic runes of a failed tomorrow.
Either way, whatever the future of technology I choose to believe that it can be a vessel by which demons and the preternatural enter the world as it erodes the foundations of our reality.
Go ahead and call me kook. Call me a nut. Call me whatever name you want to in the book. But human beings have long understood the veil between worlds isn’t as strong as we’d like to think and we are messing with that delicate fabric.
And it’s really only just begun.