The first thing you need to know about Gordon White's Star.Ships: A PreHistory of the Spirits is that you don't have to identify as a Practitioner to find this an extremely valuable resource for understanding not just the world around us, in all its vast strangeness just waiting to be appreciated, but have a sense of humanity's epic journey across time and the stories its told itself along the way.
The second thing you need to know is that if you're looking for just an in-depth discussion of the book, go directly to the end of this post, where you'll find my 90+min talk with its author.
What I'll be attempting in this piece is more than just a synopsis of the book - I'll also situate it amongst both other recent texts and against the current mainstream worldview, to tell you just why you should be reading it.
A defining text of the new magical renaissance, Star.Ships addresses the question of who we are now by tracing where we come from, and by drawing out the stories and the spirits that have journeyed and evolved with us. The goal is, as Gordon writes, the restoration of context.
To this end, White applies his globally-recognised data and demographics skills to realise a groundbreaking work of truly interdisciplinary research. Utilising mythological, linguistic and astronomical data to reconstruct palaeolithic magical beliefs, he maps them to the human journey out of Africa; explores which aspects of these beliefs and practices have survived into the Western tradition; and what the implications (and applications) of those survivals may be for us.
Written for a magically literate and operative audience, Star.Ships displays the flair, wit and engagement with evidence that adherents of his runesoup blog have come to expect from Gordon. He deftly handles vast time scales and cosmologies to build his case; avoids the pitfalls of alternative historians with a refreshing absence of dogma or wishful thinking; and, in a masterful deployment of the latest research, simultaneously questions outworn dominant narratives and is not afraid to champion the work of independent researchers and entertain forbidden discourses. It is exactly what chaos magic should be.
Göbekli Tepe, the Pyramids and Sphinx, Nabta Playa, Gunung Padang, Easter Island and Sundaland are some of the points spangled across a work of truly cosmic scope. Star.Ships beckons those who are willing to engage in the adventure to follow the great river of history that flows into and out of an ocean of stars. Minds will be blown.
Nothing in that description is incorrect, and I don't mean to come off here as critical of it; except in the more traditional (vs common) usage of the word. Because, to me, this is an important book deserving of a much wider audience that extends beyond occult circles. Star.Ships to my mind is an ambitious work that succeeds in helping to build something extremely important to - and largely missing from - our contemporary condition: a global narrative of humanity that stretches back thousands upon thousands of years, that breaks down the individual civilisational mythologies of Earth's nation states and helps see us all as one people that splintered and regrouped, repeatedly cross-bred and adapted, and told each other stories under the Moon and the Stars for a hundred thousand years or more. To that end, it sits alongside other recent works that have tackled other strands of this global human narrative - I'm thinking here of Graeber's Debt: The First Five Thousand Years and Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. Reading just these three books will appropriately arm anyone to fight for the future far better than the standard texts being pushed by the Technocratic Elite. And yes, I'm looking at you, Long Now Foundation.
In fact, let's start right there, at the cutting edge of contemporary mainstream, technocratic historical thinking. What I'm hoping to demonstrate in this piece is how far ahead the nascent magical renaissance that Star.Ships is a part of is from the technocratic mythology. And it is a mythology. It's a narrative woven from scientific findings that's being used to justify the current power structures of the world, and the path they're attempting to lead us all down, by calling back to their reading of the past. How our history is framed directly impacts the story we tell ourselves about our future. Do we live in the shadow of a series of Collapsed Civisilations and lost Golden Ages, or a part of a tale of triumphant survival despite natural and man-made cataclysms? Are we destined to live forever in the Age of the Climate Chaos and the Sixth Mass Extinction, or can we instead rise to the challenges of ecological restoration and crewed planetary exploration: the 20thCentury as a Dark Age, with the promise this century of the greatest Golden Age our Solar System has ever known?!
Here's one of the Long Now's most recent Seminars About Long Term Thinking:
Consider this, optimists. All the societies in the world can collapse simultaneously. It has happened before.
In the 12th century BCE the great Bronze Age civilizations of the Mediterranean—all of them—suddenly fell apart. Their empires evaporated, their cities emptied out, their technologies disappeared, and famine ruled. Mycenae, Minos, Assyria, Hittites, Canaan, Cyprus—all gone. Even Egypt fell into a steep decline. The Bronze Age was over.
The event should live in history as one of the great cautionary tales, but it hasn’t because its causes were considered a mystery. How can we know what to be cautious of? Eric Cline has taken on on the mystery. An archaeologist-historian at George Washington University, he is the author of 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. The failure, he suggests, was systemic. The highly complex, richly interconnected system of the world tipped all at once into chaos.
Note how they open by baiting the optimists?! That synopsis for the talk is elaborated on in the Long Now's summary, adding that:
In the 12th Century B.C. everything fell apart. For Cline the defining moment was the battle in 1177 B.C. (8th Year of Ramses III) when Egypt barely defeated a mysterious army of “Sea Peoples.” Who were they? Do they really explain the general collapse, as historians long assumed?
Cline thinks the failure was systemic, made of a series of cascading calamities in a highly interdependent world. There were indeed invasions—they might have been soldiers, or refugees, or civil war, or all three. But the violence was probably set in motion by extensive drought and famine reported in tablet letters from the time. Voices in the letters: “There is famine in our house. We will all die of hunger.” “Our city is sacked. May you know it!” In some regions there were also devastating earthquakes.
The interlinked collapses played out over a century as central administrations failed, elites disappeared, economies collapsed, and whole populations died back or moved elsewhere.
In the dark centuries that followed the end of the Bronze Age, romantic myths grew of how wondrous the world had once been. Homer sang of Achilles, Troy, and Odysseus. Those myths inspired the Classical Age that eventually emerged.
Cline wonders, could the equivalent of the Bronze Age collapse happen in our current Age?
Note the mystery of the Sea Peoples... Who were the Sea Peoples? Where could they possibly have come from and what drew them to seek out new lands?
The narrative of Collapse has been heavily pushed by the Technocracy. In particular by Jared Diamond, who went from narrating the manifest destiny of the rise to ascendancy of the Eurasian powers - thanks purely to an accident of geography (and thus no inherent racial superiority, as found in so many earlier technocratic screeds of the early 20thC) - in the Pulitzer Prize winning Guns, Germs, and Steel, to pointing to all the failures of other, previous historical and pre-historical civilisations in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. As that later book has been summarised:
[Collapse] reviews the causes of historical and pre-historical instances of societal collapse—particularly those involving significant influences from environmental changes, the effects of climate change, hostile neighbors, and trade partners—and considers the responses different societies have had to such threats. While the bulk of the book is concerned with the demise of these historical civilizations, Diamond also argues that humanity collectively faces, on a much larger scale, many of the same issues, with possibly catastrophic near-future consequences to many of the world's populations." [Wikipedia]
One of the key factors leading to societal or civilisational collapse that Diamond identifies is Overpopulation and exhaustion of local resources; and one of his main examples is the story of Easter Island. Which, like many other parts of his argument in both books, has proven to be either flat out wrong, or omitting crucial facts which just happen to contradict his overarching theme: that if the world would just follow the lead of the Technocrats, everything will be okay (just don't ask too many questions).
The book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus acts as a complete rebuttal to part of the thrust of Diamond's painting of a basically "noble savage" Americas, telling of cities that rivaled(or even surpassed) Paris and an Amazon rainforest turned into a vast garden. Until the arrival of Columbus and his crew, and their additional cargo of plagues decimated two continents in short order, in what's politely known as "the Columbian Exchange." Diamond's book emphasizes the overwhelming superiority of the Western invaders during this period, giving barely a line to the idea that syphilis - which ravaged Europe and drove many of its rulers and nobles mad, just after the return of Columbus - was the Americas' "gift" in return.
I've mentioned this before here I think, but the point is that Technocratic Mythology is frequently generated by taking a static view of the world, and looking back only at their chosen Mythology of Progress, that paints a linear rise and fall of great civilisations that goes something like: Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, England, America. This is something Gordon and I explore in-depth in the podcast below, so I'll stop here. Just remember the static worldview part, for now. Also note that entire continents are missing from this picture.
Let's jump over to Easter Island again for a second. Because its story - as told by these members of technocracy - forms the background for the Sustainability movement pushing the line that the problem is Overpopulation and consumption of resources. Not that the inequitable distribution of resources and rampant waste by the upper classes was maybe part of the problem since our civilisation phase shifted into that mode, no... Yet look, here's another technocratic faction, the Brooking Institute in concert with the World Bank, directly contradicting them, saying Malthusianism is total bunk and we can easily maintain a population of 10 Billion:
Overpopulation is an appealing emotional concept for many. With refugees, poverty, malnutrition, and hunger broadcast onto televisions around the world every day, emotional pictures are more convincing than facts. However, population explosion is a myth. Today, we have 7.3 billion people. In 2050, we will have around 9 billion, and in 2100 the world population will possibly reach its peak with about 10-11 billion people. This implies an actual annual population increase of less than 1 percent with a tendency to fall to zero by 2100. World fertility patterns tend to change due to rising income, and that is what might facilitate that drop to zero percent growth.
With rising income food consumption patterns also change. Calorie intakes of poor and rich people are surprisingly similar, but rich people consume more protein. This adds about a further 1 percent growth to food demand which means that the world will need to produce approximately two percent more food annually if today’s poor become rich. Will we be able to sustainably supply that extra two percent? The answer is most likely yes."
What does this have to do with a book about deep time and the spirits? Nothing. Except to demonstrate just how far off track mainstream thinking has been, with the narratives it's been generating.
So did the Easter Islanders die off because that "noble savages" society was unfit? As it turns out, nope. Again, total bunk! As you can hear reported just below, a new critical re-examination of the facts, filtered through an updated mental model tells a completely story of the demise of the peoples of Easter Island. That their collapse - linchpin to Diamond's case - wasn't the result of innate failings within their culture; in fact they'd coped with changing circumstances just fine. It was instead the direct consequence of invasion by Western trading ships, enslavement of the local population and their additional cargo of rats that most likely caused the area's environmental destruction:
So if Easter Island wasn't a prime example of the collapse of an inferior, primitive form of society - and this is exactly what Diamond is saying - but instead was the lasting legacy of a culture with its roots in deep time, whose myths have conserved its history? As we'll examine more fully shortly, this is exactly the picture Gordon paints, in a far more positive vision of an ancient culture that's persisted in lands left to after dramatic climate change. One that did and continues to span the Pacific.
Yet the narrative of an isolated Collapse is how its been preserved in Western minds and perpetuated through the entertainment complex by its chosen story tellers and artists. Here is the earliest known painting of Easter Island - what do you see, other than a cautionary tale?
A View of the Monuments of Easter Island, Rapanui, c. 1775-1776 by William Hodges.
Exploitation of people and resources and ecological disruption, that's the real story of Easter Island's end; and the blood is all on European hands. That's the real cautionary tale, that's being ignored.
This is important to understand, because what's at stake here is nothing short of ontological warfare between competing mythological camps. It's dueling narratives of Collapse vs. Survival.
This is where the real strength of Gordon's book comes into play. The point I've been building up, that shows just why it's so important.
He takes us on an incredible journey, back to before the end of the Ice Age, to the then-continent of Sundaland (shown below). Painting a vivid picture of a land that had not just a rich society, but cultural exchange between multiple branches of the hominid family tree for vast stretches of time. A place that can be, and is in fact, described as "like something out of Lord of the Rings." Denisovans, Homo floresiensis (aka Hobbits), Neanderthals and Modern Humans fighting, fucking and swapping cultural artifacts.
A place that, as the Ice Age ended, suffered a great Flood and its people dispersed, or clung on in the remaining lands left above the water. Hence we find the fossils of the "Hobbits" in a small part of Indonesia; Flores. And then much later have Jared Diamond, amateur anthropologist and popular science writer, remarking on the New Guineans having independently discovering the miracle of agriculture. (Another key part of Guns, Germs, and Steel.)
Viewed through a deep time lens - versus a static world view - it's no surprise when one thinks about the former citizens of Sundaland taking their knowledge with them on their boats and settling permanently amongst the populations they'd only perhaps made sporadic contact with before.
So many civilisations and cultures are filled with creation myths of people arriving to teach them the arts of agriculture and building. As Gordon is at pains to point out, as he refolds the map of history to include the geography of this now sunken land, they wouldn't necessarily be legendary people of Atlantis or Mu (and definitely not ALIENS), arriving with civilisational starter-kits, uplifting them to the next level of SimEarth... but far more likely, assisting already nascent development along these lines and merely accelerating its progress. That the Bronze Age was no outlier; the world - all of it! - has been interconnected and sharing culture and technology basically the whole time.
It's exactly by drawing upon the latest genomics and linguist data, and then mixing in his own deep knowledge of mythology and the western esoteric tradition that Gordon succeeds in painting a richer history of humanity and its spiritual systems. A history that as he tells it has probably also involved a little-to-occasional helpful nudge from the extradimensional entities we've variously called Gods, Demons, Angels, the Spirits, Sprites, Faire Folk... or UFOs across time.
This is the armament I speak of, the upgraded mental toolkit that even - and I would argue especially - non-Practitioners can benefit from. The crucial understanding that the horizon of our history can easily be pushed back from a mere five thousand years to easily ten-to-twenty thousand years. And that, as Gordon shows, by simply adjusting - or "regridding" - the histories of the main known civilisations - from the Indus Valley to Egypt to Mesopotamia - a deeper, richer history emerges that connects back to the stories and traditions of Sundaland... and further back even, into the paleolithic savanna of Africa. He shows that by mixing deep knowledge of mythology and ancient history with climate data and the geography of the world during the Ice Age, and afterwards, as the coastlines shifted, so many jigsaw pieces click into place.
It's this dynamic, magical view of history as opposed to the static mindset of the Western Technocracy, one that privileges its own history, and takes a simple glance at what is so often the post-apocalyptic aftermath of its member's adventures. As I've said here before about the image of Native Americans lodged in the popular consciousness:
It bears constant repeating that the mythic images that populate the popular consciousness, of Native Americans on horseback, shooting rifles, are of the post-apocalyptic descendants making use of the technologies of their conquerors... the people who stole their world... to fight back against them. Or just survive on the fringes left to them.
We're fed a narrative that ignores the dark cost of so much progress that is constantly glorified or mythologised.
People post to walled gardens with their yearnings to return to the Moon, forgetting that it was converted Nazi rockets that took man there... rockets built by slaves in the midst of a Holocaust... just like their smartphones are built by slaves in the midst of an eco-holocaust.
Just as Nietzsche wrote, it takes a strength of will to stare into the Abyss and not go (completely) mad. The magical reasoning view of history is perfectly captured in this quote from Fight Club:
Nothing is static. Everything is evolving. Everything is falling apart.
As James C. Scott points out in part of this lecture on his book The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, what was previously mistaken as primitive tribes in the South American jungles are peoples who fled the Spanish invasion centuries ago and have kept running, generation after generation. Like the peoples of Upland South Asia, they've consciously relinquished technologies and shaped their culture to be outside of the state. This is a mindset impossible for the technocracy, High Priests of the Myth of Progress to comprehend.
There is no inevitable linear progress to civilisations or mythology. Quite the opposite. Civilisations rise and fall, but mythologies and spiritual traditions are incredibly conservative. They are only rebuilt when the power structures of cultures change, causing the myths to be rewritten to reflect the new societal conditions. This important concept is another thing Gordon talks through, and annotates for the magical readership, that has been the primary work for mythological scholar Dr. Michael Witzel, resulting in the text The Origins of the World's Mythologies.
Something Gordon teases us with in Star.Ships is just how active things were in the Southern Hemisphere. He connects the peoples and culture of Sundaland to not just the Indus Valley and upwards, across into the Fertile Crescent, but demonstrates a continuity of contact across the oceans that didn't just stop at Japan but went on and into South America too. As he said to be in the podcast below, it was a deliberate decision to stop there, since his focus was always on back-tracing the Western Esoteric Tradition back into deep time. He's left that task up to another scholar.
Read the publisher's description above again and you'll have no doubt that the book isn't lacking in epic scope, giving solid explanations for megalithic objects and their likely purpose. Even more amazing than the recent rediscovery of Göbekli Tepe - which I was delighted to see folded, however briefly, also into the narrative as told in Sapiens - is what might be the first pyramid, shaped from a dead volcano: Gunung Padang.
"Artist's impression of Gunung Padang as it would have looked in antiquity by and courtesy of architect Pon S Purajatnika." [via Graham Hancock]
Gunung Padang: the First Pyramid, whose echoes we can perhaps see in some many cultures across the globe as, I'd argue, a testament to human survival, as well as serving other ritual purposes. That though populations and civilisations have risen and fallen through the ages, the stories we've told and so much of our spiritual traditions connect us back... something that is surely not about to change. That we've survived cataclysms before and shall do so again. Especially as we learn to see the world with hourglass eyes.
One of mysteries science is trying to understand right now - at a distance at the edge of Gordon's lens - is what caused what appears to be, according to a reading of our genetic history a Collapse of epic proportions almost eighty thousand years ago, that might have almost wiped out our entire lineage in all its varieties. But didn't!
The largest supervolcano eruption of the past 2.5 million years was a series of explosions of Mount Toba on the Indonesian island of Sumatra about 75,000 years ago. Researchers say Toba spewed out a staggering 700 cubic miles (2,800 cubic kilometers) of magma, equivalent in mass to more than 19 million Empire State Buildings. By comparison, the infamous blast from the volcanic Indonesian island of Krakatoa in 1883, one of the largest eruptions in recorded history, released about 3 cubic miles (12 cubic km) of magma.
About the same time the eruption took place, the number of modern humans apparently dropped cataclysmically, as shown by genetic research. People today evolved from the few thousand survivors of whatever befell humans in Africa at the time. The giant plume of ash from Toba stretched from the South China Sea to the Arabian Sea, and in the past investigators proposed the resulting volcanic winter might have caused this die-off.
However, recently scientists have suggested that Toba did not sway the course of human history as much as previously thought. For instance, prehistoric artifacts discovered in India and dating from after the eruption hinted that people coped fairly well with any effects of the eruption.
After reading Star.Ships, and understanding that the peoples of Sundaland and the Indus Valley were long in contact... could it be that this is another cataclysm preserved somewhere in the mythology of humanity? That this is what caused them to shape a volcano into the first pyramid? As a way of remembering.
Understanding the incredibly conservative power of mythology is something that's hard for the uninitiated to grasp. It's easiest to accept that your grandmother was told the same story - but the idea some of our conceptions of reality have been told in some version or other for our entire genetic line is... mind blowing.
The task of unpacking them again, filtered through the cutting edge science of the now is a task that's been attempted before. The opening passages of the excellent book The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light by William Irwin Thompson, which I would count as a precursor to Star.Ships demonstrates the difficulty of parsing mythology so:
Take a photograph of a reflection in a mirror and think of that piece of film, which will in turn reflect an image to the curving surfaces of the eye and the folding surfaces of the brain. Study the event of history as Thucydides did, and the world itself becomes an event of history. Study mythology, and the work itself becomes a piece of mythology, a story in which old gods wear new clothes but live as they did before the fashion became tight and constricting to their ancient, natural movements.
The scientist tries to examine the "real" nature of the photograph; he tries to get away from the psychological configuration, the meaning of the image, to move down to some other, more basic level of patterns of alternating dots of light and dark, a world of elementary particles. And yet what does he find there but another mental configuration, another arrangement of psychological meaning? If he persists in this direction long enough, the mythological dimensions of science will become apparent in his work, as they would have if he asked himself questions about the meaning of sunlight rather then questions about the behaviour of photons.
Science wrong to its uttermost becomes myth. History wrought to its uttermost becomes myth. But what is myth that it returns to mind even when we would most escape it?
The biggest trick the technocracy tries to pull is that the narrative they construct from their reading of science isn't also functioning as a civilisational mythology too. It takes an initiate to explain to the mundanes just how a wider view of history and meaning can be constructed. It takes magical reasoning to unite the various branches of science and reconcile them with our history and give us something truly valuable: a message of Survival from the Ancients. They all have their tales of Floods and other Cataclysms, and lost Golden Ages they seek to recreate. And most valuable of all, they connect us with the Stars; with the Cosmos.
This forms a necessary antidote to the Technocratic narrative of Collapse, giving us a way to see the glass as instead being half-full. If our ancient ancestors could rise to disasters both natural and man made - and it's a very blurry line between the two (apart from the occasional Super Volcano and Asteroid) - so can we. It's a question, not of Sustainability, but Resilience. That maybe we should stop worrying and letting a Mainstream Media rife with fear porn consume us, and instead draw on the strength of these survivals and create legendary tales for our own descendants to tell under their own sky, wherever that may be, one day.
The Bronze Age collapse story we began with is familiar to anyone that has read William Gibson's latest novel, The Peripheral, being remarkably similar to the Jackpot Years he laid out as the likely unfolding of our very own near-future. But, crucially, his narrative was anchored with a far future of the Earth being rebuilt... and ended with its near future players being forewarned by it, so find a gentle path through the coming chaos. He didn't dwell on the impending apocalypse, barely pausing to elaborate to the reader just how everything had fallen apart, choosing instead to focus on finding the way through.
I repeat: this is the mental toolkit we need! The magical reasoning we can apply; and perhaps get a gentle extradimensional nudge in the right direction, just as Gibson's novel's time-folding tech facilitated the near-future to be aided by their far-future kin.
Too many people see what's pitched as the inevitable, unstoppable Coming Collapse as being exactly like an unending journey on Fury Road, without taking note - despite my urging, I might add - to see the film as the beginning for a rebirth at the hands of the film's heroes, that have carried the literal seeds to bring the planet back to life.
Mad Max - Fury Road
There's so much I've left out in this already vastly over-elaborated contextualization and critical reading, where I've probably done little but try to scribble insanely in the margins of a magnificent work. So I'll end with my favourite historical anecdote, because it was completely new - and highly relevant - to me, especially in light of the dangerous technocratic memetic infection of Collapse and what we might do about it. As he charts the mythological evolution of spiritual traditions across time and space, Gordon pauses to write vividly about the Sabians of Harran, who'd fled the collapse of that great center of learning, Alexandria, after it was destroyed by Christians. You'll have to pick up the book to read that description, adding it to your secret hermetic monastic library. Instead, settle now for this summary:
At a time when Christianity was rapidly spreading throughout the known world. Harran became the last pagan enclave, and as the seats of learning in Alexandria fell in the wake of the new religion, and the Academies and schools of philosophy were closed down, philosophers sought refuge in Harran, where their books and teachings were preserved. Later many of them were translated into Arabic. Some by the so called "Sabians of Harran", ushering a golden age in the Islamic world. Later these works were to make their way into Europe, directly resulting in the Renaissance along with those works that were preserved in monasteries. Furthermore such underground movements as the Rosicrucians that fought for the reformation of state institutions, religion and science claimed their source of knowledge from the mysterious Damkar, believed to be a Sabian center of learning. The secular, democratic and humanistic principles of the modern world are due to such struggles which have taken centuries." [Source: Hermetics.org]
The Sabians to me serve as perfect role models for the times ahead. Here's to carrying the true fire of knowledge and the endless quest. I hope the nascent magical renaissance that Gordon White's Star.Ships: A PreHistory of the Spirits is an important part of continues to grow in strength and number.
Now our brief journey through time and space, and mythology and science, and ontological warfare is complete. If you choose to you can now listen to my conversation with Gordon, where we explore his book in great detail. We get deep into issues like just how mainstream archeology & mythology have been constructed, and how we can move away from its rampant Eurocentrism. I hope you enjoy it too!
You can find the full show notes here, by the way.
Thanks for reading!
If you're interested in more such science-fictional meditations on finding a path through the end of the world that leads to a reborn planet and a galaxy full of wonders, you can sign up for my newsletter at the (De)Extinction Club. If you'd like to support the full set of my output, which includes a podcast frequently featuring conversations with other Blackhat Futurists & fascinating individuals, and get early access to new material like this, please head over to Dark Extropian Musings.
We're gonna win.