More and more, the West seems exhausted. Unthinkable a few decades ago, people are increasingly prepared to trade freedom for safety. Obedience to the “elites” is portrayed as moral goodness. Creativity is measurably in decline. More open to different sexualities than ever before, young people are, nevertheless, having less sex than previous generations did at their age. Testosterone is declining, generationally, among men. The aim of societies’ most vocal is no longer to build but to tear down, to give voice to propaganda instead of speaking the truth, and to attack the opposition instead of doing anything positive.
According to many spiritual traditions, time either moves in a cycle or linearly through various Ages or aeons. I’ve spoken before about the notion of aeons, written about in Peter J. Carroll’s Liber Null, though this is one of those chapters, and concepts, that has been largely forgotten in the popularization of Chaos Magic. According to Carroll, humanity has passed through four great Ages or “aeons.” And the fifth, he says, “may develop into an Aquarian Age or a totalitarian tyranny” (p. 102.). We cannot know yet.
- The first aeon, says Carroll, “was an age of Shamanism and Magic” in which man needed psychic forces in order for the “puny naked” human being to survive “the dangers of a hostile environment.”
- The second was a pagan era. Man settled and began to farm the land. The “psychic forces became confused” and superstitions arose.
- The third aeon was one of monotheism, appearing inside of “the pagan civilization” — Buddhism inside of Hindu India, Christianity in Europe, and so on.
- The fourth (and continuing) aeon is one of atheism.
- The fifth is still embryonic and its character will be decided by what actions we take today (pp. 88-89).
It is, perhaps, somewhat strange that Carroll would conceive of time as linear (which is part of the monotheistic worldview rather than a pagan one (though Chaos Magic was never pagan)) but this is probably due to his interest in science (and, as such, in progress) and the influence of Aleister Crowley’s or Thelema’s conception of three great Ages or aeons.
There have, of course, been numerous other conceptions of the Ages. Let’s look briefly at a few of them:
Perhaps the most important conception of time, the Hindus conceive of time as consisting of four great Ages or Yugas.
- The first and most spiritual of these is the Satya Yuga.
- The second, the Treta Yuga, is a time of mental development.
- The third, the Dwapara Yuga is a time of mixed divine and demonic qualities.
- The fourth, least spiritual and most material is the Kali Yuga.
Like the ancient Norse conception of time, in the end times there will be treachery, brother will fight brother, the corrupt will come to power, and material wealth will appear more important to the people than wisdom. For the Norse, the Age will end in a final battle between the gods and their enemy, the giants, and everything — gods, giants, and man — will be destroyed. Then, after the destruction, will come a rebirth. Likewise, in Hinduism, it is generally believed that after the Kali Yuga will come a new Dwapara Yuga, followed by a new Treta Yuga, and, finally, a new Satya Yuga. Then the decline will begin again. However, it is also said that at the Kali Yuga will end with the appearance of Kalki, the tenth and last incarnation of the god Vishnu, and that he will restore the true religion and will usher in a new Satya Yuga.
The notion of the Kali Yuga has become increasingly important in the West in recent years (it has influenced Chaos Magician and author Gordon White and is mentioned in the opening sentence of his book The Chaos Protocols and it appears in the title of Aki Cederberg’s book about his spiritual search through India, Journeys Through The Kali Yuga). And, citing the decline of spiritual tradition, in particular, many Western alternative thinkers believe that we are now in, or are nearing the end of, the Kali Yuga. Others believe that this Yuga ended in 1897/98 or 1999 and that we are now in a new Dwapara Yuga. (If so, the new Yuga is off to a really bad start.)
Well-known in his own time, the medieval monk Joachim of Fiore founded his own monasteries and wrote popular apocalyptic literature. He believed that there were three great Ages:
- The Age of the Father, characterized by obedience to the divine law.
- The Age of the Son, characterized by love and brought about by Jesus.
- And (most controversially since it comes well after Jesus), the Age of the Holy Ghost, in which people will finally become true individuals.
Joachim’s schema is similar to Aleister Crowley’s, who believed that there were three Ages or aeons:
- The Aeon of Isis, in which matriarchal cults reigned supreme.
- The Aeon of Osiris, in which monotheism was supreme, but which is now ending.
- The Aeon of Horus, in which there will be true freedom, individuality, self-fulfilment, and personal expression in accordance with Crowley’s religious doctrine Liber al Vel Legis (The Book of The Law).
And, of course, there are still other conceptions of the Ages, or of the rise and fall of civilizations, from the writings of the Arab social historian Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) to those of twentieth-century German intellectuals Oswald Spengler and Jean Gebser. While Spengler (influenced by playwright, author, scientist, and Freemason Wolfgang von Goethe’s study of botany) believed that civilizations have a cultural seed, then develop organically like a plant before withering and dying, Gebser claimed that human consciousness has evolved over the millennia and will continue to evolve and to reach a higher condition.
Of the two German thinkers, Spengler is the better-known, and his thesis, that we are living through “the decline of the West” has influenced some modern thinkers, including the sixties-type feminist Camille Paglia. Nevertheless, Gebser has influenced author Ken Wilber (“the Einstein of consciousness studies”) as well as some small pockets of the contemporary spiritual scene. For Gebser, human consciousness has evolved through the archaic, magical, mythical, and mental (or rational) stages, and is moving towards an “integral” stage, in which all of these prior stages will work together in harmony, creating a more awakened human being.
Notably, while some conceive of mankind moving to ever more freedom (Joachim of Fiore, Crowley, Gebser, Wilber), some see us as heading towards spiritual decline (Hinduism, Norse religion, Ibn Khaldun, and Oswald Spengler). Those that have foreseen decline have tended to focus on society while those that have predicted greater freedom and enjoyment have focused on the individual. And, of course, it is quite possible that society will disintegrate, leaving the individual free — or forcing him — to rediscover meaning and truth for himself. Indeed, in times of decadence and degeneration there is often great creative energy. (So, maybe it’s our time, after all.)
With a pandemic, riots, government lockdowns, millions unemployed (and around eight million people in the U.S. alone thrust into poverty because they’ve been forced not to work), If it wasn’t already, it is clear, now, that we are living in a time of change. If you want to understand where we might be and what qualities we need to live through this transition, I explore the various conceptions of the cycle of time, as well as many ancient spiritual and initiatic traditions, in my book The Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician, which you can purchase at Amazon dot com here, from Barnes&Noble here, or from other major booksellers in your country.