Space Pagans and Smartphone Witches: Where Tech Meets Mysticism


DORTMUND, Germany – “Let’s use smartphones and tarot cards to communicate with the spirits,” reads the writing on the wall, illuminated by soft ultraviolet light. “Let’s make devices with our own hands to listen to the invisible worlds.”

The spells printed on the wallpaper are part of an installation by the French artist Lucille Olympus From the CyberWitch Manifesto to a show called “Technoshamanism”“, What’s on Hartware MedienKunstVerein in Dortmund, Germany, until 6 March 2022. The group exhibition, bringing together the work of 12 artists and collectives, explores the links between technology and esoteric ancestral systems.

In our constantly online life, the supernatural has a moment of high technology. Spirituality is everywhere in our feeds: self-help gurus Deepak Chopra co-founded his own NFT platform., witches reading tarot on TikTok, and Co-Star astrology app powered by artificial intelligence has been downloaded over 20 million times.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Talbert, assistant professor of faith and digital ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania at Harrisburg, has an explanation. “Because of the globalizing potential of the Internet, people have access to traditions of beliefs that were previously not easily accessible to them,” he said. He noted that an increasing number of people in the United States are identifying themselves as “spiritual,” but not “religious,” adding that the Internet allows these people to discover, choose, and combine the spiritual traditions they like best.

Technoshamanism curator Inke Arns said during a recent tour of the exhibition that contemporary artists have also recognized the ubiquitous presence of esoteric spirituality in the digital space. “I asked myself:“ Why is there such a strange interest in different parts of the world, not only in the revival of ancestral knowledge, but also in combining it with technology? “- she said.

Often, for artists, the answer comes down to concern for the environment, Arns said. “People understand that we are in a very difficult situation,” she added, “because of the burning of coal and fossil fuels. And it doesn’t stop. ” Ancient belief systems that were more in keeping with nature, combined with new technologies, gave artists a sense of hope in the face of the climate crisis, she said.

While technological advances are often viewed as damaging the environment, artists, indigenous activists and hackers have tried to bring technology back for their own, esoteric purposes, said Fabian Borges, a Brazilian researcher and member of a network called Tecnoxamanismo. This collective organizes meetings and festivals where participants use devices, including self-hacked robots, to connect with ancestral systems and the natural world.

In the Dortmund show, a sense of hope shines through in several works that represent the future of humans beyond Earth. Fifty prints by British artist Suzanne Traister from the Technoshamanic Systems: New Cosmological Models of Survival series fill one wall of the museum, dreaming of spiritual possibilities for the survival of our species.

Traister’s neat, colorful work depicts flying saucers and stars on paper from a diagram of the kabbalistic tree of life, as well as drawings of imaginary scientific systems and extraterrestrial architecture. As billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos see space as the next frontier for human expansion, Traister has come up with a utopian alternative: space exploration as a process in which ritual and vision play a role like solar energy and artificial intelligence. …

According to Arns, many esoteric practices associate communities with a higher power, which is why outer space figures in the studies of spirituality by many contemporary artists. “It establishes a connection between the microcosm and the macrocosm,” she added, creating “a view of a world that includes more than just the Earth.”

Technologists, of course, have come up with a more digital way to penetrate new worlds: virtual reality. Many of the founders of VR were interested in psychedelic experiences, a common feature of shamanic rituals. (Recent ayahuasca ceremonies boomwhere participants drink a psychoactive drink shows the attraction remains strong.) Researchers from the University of Sussex in England, even used VR to try and reproduce the magic mushroom hallucination

In the show Technoshamanism in Dortmund, several works offer the viewer strange visions. In the VR-work of Morekhshin Allahyari “Seeing the Unknown”, a sinister woman-genie is depicted; at the request of the artist, a VR helmet is worn lying in a darkened space, so that an evil spirit hovers menacingly above the viewer. Another work, experienced through augmented reality glasses, leads the viewer through a meditative ritual in a giant papier-mâché sanctuary, weaving a spiral light path with video holograms.

Instead of inventing their own virtual spiritual sites, other artists are trying to reveal the lost meaning of some of the existing ones. Tabitha Rezair, for example, whose website describes her as “infinity embodied in healing power,” showcases an installation exploring megalithic stone circles in Gambia and Senegal. In the film, shown on a flat-screen TV set on the floor of the museum, Reser explores the original purpose of the ancient sites through documentary interviews with local curators, as well as astronomers and archaeologists. Drawing on numerology, astrology and traditional African understanding of space, interviews are superimposed on hypnotic computer visualizations of outer space.

Technology and spirituality can also come together to preserve ancient cultural practices that might otherwise be lost, according to researcher Borges. She recalled that at a 2016 festival organized by her network in Bahia, Brazil, teenagers with mobile phones recorded a full moon ritual performed by members of Pataxo, an indigenous community. Borges said the footage of Pataxo’s people speaking their ancient language in trance was later passed on to researchers at local universities who are working to expand the vocabulary.

“The interaction between new tools and esoteric practices can be seen in all mystical practices,” said Tolbert of the University of Pennsylvania. “Technology has always been a part of spirituality,” he said, referring to mediums running their Facebook groups and ghost hunters using electromagnetic field detectors. “I think most of them don’t see it as representing some kind of conflict,” he added.

Perhaps, then, as the Cyber ​​Witch Manifesto suggests, there are more common ground between hackers and witches, programmers and psychics than one might expect. As Tolbert said, “What is technology if not a way for the individual to find the answers?”


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