"It may happen that small differences in the initial conditions produce very great ones in the final phenomena.” - Henri Poincare
“Chance is a word void of sense; nothing can exist without a cause.” - Voltaire
I enter my studio like every other evening, sitting down on the bed and looking out the window into the night skyline of Portland, Oregon. As the sound of metropolitan-life increases, my thoughts drift to the many pressures of life and the plethora of different ideas associated with it: civic pressure, stamina, and interpersonal relationships. I glance at my windowsill and as I do this, my eyes pass over a key ring. Without thinking about it, I just stare at the ring. Wait. Those are not my keys, and what are they doing on my windowsill?
Suddenly, I feel paranoia, and look around, wondering if someone has been inside my apartment. Everything looks in order, nothing amiss, no signs of searching or of theft. I lift the keys and study them; they’re all new chrome-plated keys of different shapes and sizes. Upon closer examination, I discover something peculiar: four of the seven keys have “ACE” engraved on them. This may not sound too strange. ACE Hardware sells keys. But to me it’s a sign: Four Aces makes up a winning hand in poker. Most people wouldn't notice. I, however, have a keen interest in symbolic coincidences. I believe in chance, or better yet, I believe in synchronicity: the aligning of two arbitrary events, which actually have a distinct connection.
In this situation, either chance came into play or I’m being stalked? I don’t know why anyone would want to stalk me, so some random event caused the keys to appear on my windowsill and the strange probability of four of them having ACE engraved upon them. How this curious event integrates itself into my life is determined by the knowledge of how these keys appeared and also how my mind sees this “coincidence.”
In the essay, The Process of Individuation, Marie-Louise Von Franz speaks of the theory of “coincidence” as examined from the point of view of Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity. Von Franz describes synchronicity as “… a “meaningful coincidence” of outer and inner events that are not themselves casually connected.” The symbol of the Four Aces resonates with me because of a personal connection concerning the symbols of the key, gambling, the seven, and the four.
In esoteric theory, the four doors of the four cosmic watchtowers are symbolic ways to describe centering yourself within your psyche; east, west, north, south. To do a mystical banishing, one must petition the four directions. Over the years, I’ve lived a reckless life, which I consider a game that is located high above a game board. Few people understand the rules of this game, but they play. I gamble with my life often. But this gambling produces a profound understanding of the game and its eventual outcome. As far as seven, seven alchemical stages exist to reach the gold, the nirvana, the heaven, the nameless.
Now, this all could be mere coincidence if it weren’t for the resonation within my personal experience. In George B. Hogenson’s The Self, the Symbolic and Synchronicity: Virtual Realities and the Emergence of the Psyche, the differential between chance events and synchronicity is determined by his defense of the archetype. He states:
“All too often, however, we tend to lose sight of this distinction and claim synchronicity when all we really have is chance. Jung’s distinction between the two phenomena rests on the creation of meaning, or the meaningfulness of juxtaposed events. He also remarks that synchronistic events are usually associated with archetypal materials, that they have profound affective and symbolic characteristics, and that they change the order of life.”
The archetype is the connecting principle between the psychic field and physical reality. Von Franz also states:
“Jung stresses the point that since the physical and the psychic realms coincide within the synchronistic event, there must be somewhere or somehow a Unitarian reality—one reality of the physical and psychic realms to which he gave the Latin expression unus mundus, the one world, a concept which already existed in the minds of some mediaeval philosophers.”
The connection to the unus mundus, or one unified reality/world, has always existed, but as human consciousness expands, the sensitivity to the relationship increases. There is a correlation between the machine age and the increase in mind-altering drugs. This may sound ridiculous, but consider how consciousness has changed since the 20th century, since the machine began recording our lives; and since drugs have stimulated the human brain: an organic machine. Our brain is just an organic recording device, no different from the recording process of a mechanical instrument.
In the essay, Magick Squares and Future Beats: The Magical Processes and Methods of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge describes a conversation he had with Burroughs concerning consciousness in our modern age:
“Care for a drink? He asked, “Sure’ I replied, nervous and for one of the only times in my life, in awe. “Well, Reality is not all it’s cracked up to be, you know,” he continued. He took the remote and started to flip through the channels, cutting up programmed TV. I realized he was teaching me. At the same time he began to hit stop and start on his Sony TC cassette recorder, mixing in “random” cut-up prior recordings. These were overlaid with our conversation, none acknowledging the other, an instant holography of information and environment. I was already being taught. What Bill explained to me then was pivotal to the unfolding of my life and art: Everything is recorded. If it is recorded, then it can be edited. If it can be edited then the order, sense, meaning, and direction are as arbitrary and personal as the agenda and/or person editing. This is magick. For if we have the ability and/or choice of how things unfold –regardless of the original order and/or intention that they are recorded in –then we have control over the eventual unfolding. If reality consists of a series of parallel recordings that usually go unchallenged, then reality only remains stable and predictable until it is challenged and/or the recordings are altered, or their order changed. These concepts lead us to the release of cut-ups as a magical process.”
Life is a series of cut-ups. This cut-up magical technique is a synchronistic artistic process, where the artisan takes an existing work, and cuts apart portions to randomize and re-assemble them into a new order and meaning. Tristan Tzara created the technique in the 1920s, when he pulled words out of a hat at the Cabaret Voltaire. Burroughs and Gysin improved upon the technique in 1958, by editing each other; They dubbed this collaboration The Third Mind. This is the technique in which Burroughs ordered his chapters in his novel Naked Lunch (1945). Written language is nothing more than another recording process, and the techniques of magical randomization can apply to this, as well as to physical reality. The truth of existence is being randomized, and it produced patterns; all these patterns are meaningful, none a coincidence. The same law of patterning placed the Four Aces in my windowsill as the cut-up.
It’s imperative to understand that the synchronistic event and the cut-up are entryways into the subconscious. Therefore, when the conscious mind bypasses logic, the “other within” emerges and taps into the indefinable power of the random organization. The tenuous relationship that exists between reality and chance defies logic. Chance and logic seem to contradict one another. It's logical to believe that ordered systems are in place and that each system has an element of unpredictability. In the purest sense of reality, this is not an accurate statement; chance exists as a complex chaotic system with its own law; it is an anarchic system within a system of order; they are both random and predictable if you understand its language.
In 1909, the English artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare took the cut-up technique and began experimenting with sigilization. The sigil is an ancient magical technique that affects the collective subconscious. Magicians as far back as King Solomon experimented with the technique. There are many versions of how this is done, but the basic system is the artist/magician takes a word phrase and cuts the words apart, removing vowels and repeated letters, until they break the word down into consonants only. They then morph together the consonants to produce a symbol. In the introduction to The Book of Pleasure (1909), Kenneth Grant speaks of Spare’s process:
“The Book of Pleasure contains a unique method of obtaining control of the subconscious energies latent in the human mind in the form of primal atavisms. It is evident that if such energy can be tapped and channeled, it can be directed to creative or destructive ends on a scale infinitely beyond anything achievable by the mind in the more limited state that characterizes ‘waking’ consciousness.”
Modern artists use this energy all the time, as with the Dadaists, the Surrealists, and the Burroughs/Gysin technique. Austin Osman Spare used this subconscious energy by focusing his will on a symbol; he would do this until he achieved a trance state. He then created automatic drawings by letting his subconscious mind control his hand. The automatism he found created drawings of bewildering exquisiteness, each one unique and filled with harmonious juxtaposition. In The Book of Automatic Drawing (2005), Spare comments on this intangible place in which the subconscious reveals itself: “All significant art, I believe, comes from that source. It is inspiration, revelation, spiritual truth, which men express in different ways they have developed.”
I can explain the sigil technique by exploring modern chaos theory and the concept known as “The Butterfly Effect.” Whatis.com refers to chaos as:
“…an apparent lack of order in a system that nevertheless obeys particular laws or rules; this understanding of chaos is synonymous with dynamical instability, a condition discovered by physicist Henri Poincare in the early 20th century that refers to an inherent lack of predictability in some physical systems. The two main components of chaos theory are the ideas that systems—no matter how complex they may be—rely upon an underlying order, and that very simple or small systems and events can cause very complex behaviors or events.”
The sigil is based upon the law that every subconscious action, despite the apparent subjective relevance, acts upon the objective reality of the physical world. The Butterfly Effect helps illustrate this by stating that a butterfly could flap its wings and influence weather patterns on the opposite side of the world. This is how the cut-up technique works. each single action, no matter how finite, determines the actions of the infinite world. Imagine it this way, if Burroughs had not shuffled his chapters of Naked Lunch (a very conscious and innovative decision that played with the collective unconscious), would the novel have had such an impact on those that had read it, and created their own works in a similar manner, such as Genesis P-Orridge’s musical work in Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, or David Cronenberg’s pseudo fact vs. fiction film adaptation of Naked Lunch. Cronenberg created an additional work based upon the theory of the magical act of the original, by mixing historical facts from Burrough’s life with the randomness of the novel.
The consciously random technique, in which the Dadaists were famous for, follows the same law of unpredictability; Cubism and surrealism are visual cut-ups of images. In the realm of the Surrealists, images were juxtaposed to define new outlooks. Like Austin Osman Spare’s automatic drawings, Andre Masson used a similar technique to establish himself in his work Labyrinth (1938), Colin Rhodes, in his book entitled Outsider Art: Spontaneous Alternatives (2000) defines Masson’s unconscious process.
“Starting with a web of rapidly formed lines, he worked until images began to suggest themselves, concentrating on the moment of metamorphosis when forms were in the process of turning into something else.”
Many other artists of the Dadaist/Surrealism period such as Hugo Ball, Hannah Hoch, Tristan Tzara, Kurt Schwitters, and even Man Ray, used randomized techniques to create their work.
The idea of synchronicity is based on the idea that random events can change the world. Creation is a revolutionary act, and by pulling randomness from the subconscious mind, we create something new and unique in the world. Marie-Louise Von Franz addresses this in her book On Divination And Synchronicity: The Psychology Of Meaningful Chance, by saying:
“A synchronistic event is an acausal event and is therefore, one could say, an act of creation. Jung believed in a creatio continua, like certain modern physicists who believe that there is in the world in which we live a place where from time to time new things are created. The synchronistic event would be such an act of creation.”
The middle ground between heaven and earth is where the muses breathe. In Chinese philosophy, as well as most spirit-based philosophies, the aspirant/artist/creator can consciously reach this place by dissolving illusion. Von Franz states that:
“If somebody devoid of all illusions, and all that makes the world of the ordinary ego, goes into himself with utmost sincerity, then he comes to this central hole where creation, even the cosmos, takes place. That is why the Chinese thought that certain sages or saints, very rare personalities, could reach that centre and by having come to this contained innermost centre of their personality could support heaven and earth, and be with the creation in the universe.”
The key to life is dissolving the ego and removing illusory constrained will. This rhythmic parallelism with the subconscious center is where many writers and artists tried to reach. The experience with the Four Keys substantiates this theory; the more you enter this center place, the more connected one becomes, and synchronizes, with heaven to form a harmonious sphere around the aspirant. Everything becomes a sign as to what direction the aspirant should travel.
The psychic link to these messages are like indicators of substantiation; each sign brings about a strong connection with the event until creation determines reality to be what the aspirant “sees” rather than what conventional society sees. Ben Belitt, in his essay Sight, Second, or Sudden: Versions of Witness, references Jean Cocteau’s “professional secrets of the poet” within the context of the psychic travel ways:
“…we tend to use the objects of the physical world as nomenclatural signifiers on a tabula plena rather than as events in themselves -mnemonic devices like the conventional symbols on a map or a highway, to identify habitual areas of psychic traffic.”
This tabula plena or table or gaming board is where the concepts of synchronicity and juxtaposition meet. Since the start of the mechanical age, modern man has viewed reality in a much more sterile manner, like a machine: he thinks, acts, and reflects with automatic reflex. Modern artists explore ways to remove the conscious mind from the depths of the unconscious, and like the shaman of yesteryear, they have entered the world of the game, knowing each piece fits into the whole in a unique way, trusting and playing within chaos.
Have you had a moment of synchronicity? If so comment below.