Whether or not they were deliberately intended to do so, movies and other forms of storytelling often portray concepts or imaginary scenarios which can serve as useful metaphors to illustrate or to convey an understanding of profound concepts, concepts which might be difficult to explain or even to grasp without using metaphors or allegories.
It doesn't even really matter if the writers or moviemakers were originally intending to create a metaphor that can help to explain some deep truth about the nature of our universe and our place within it: we should actually expect that, if the universe really operates in such-and-such a way, then artists and writers and creators of stories should and will end up portraying analogies pointing to those realities, whether they do so knowingly or not.
A case in point is the recent movie Divergent, which is based upon a series of popular books with the same name, which I have not read and in which I am not extraordinarily interested at this time -- but (as I have mentioned before here), which do contain what strikes me as a very helpful metaphor for illustrating some aspects of the shamanic worldview.
Regardless of your personal reaction to this recent movie (and it seems to provoke strong positive and negative reactions among different groups of viewers, as well as "strong indifference" among some who express exhaustion at the number of films that seem to be coming out in the "teen-plus-dystopia" category), it is worth considering the way the film embodies a powerful metaphor for understanding what some theoretical physicists have called our "holographic universe."
Assuming that most readers who have not yet seen the film probably fall into the "indifferent" category, no blaring "spoiler alerts" will be issued (but such an alert would come right about here, if there were one).
Without going into too much detail, the film posits a vaguely post-apocalyptic dystopian future world in which young adults are tested for their talents and predilections, after which they choose a "faction" in which they will contribute to the economy or society for the rest of their life. However, some small percentage of the population are "divergent" and have set of skills and traits that cross many categories and who have another talent which is the part which relates to the helpful metaphor regarding the shamanic worldview.
The special talent which the divergents possess (that relates to the shamanic worldview) and which the majority of the populace portrayed in the film do not seem to exhibit is this: when they are injected with mind-altering drugs to make them enter a simulated world and react to different life-threatening scenarios within the simulation, a divergent is able to perceive that it is all a simulation, and then to bend the boundaries of the simulation in order to transcend the life-threatening situation in unexpected and seemingly-impossible ways.
The short clip from the film, shown above, illustrates one scene in which the main character demonstrates this singular talent of the divergent.
And here is where the film becomes an excellent metaphor to help us to grasp the concept of the "shamanic worldview" or the "holographic universe" (concepts which can be shown to be closely related in important ways, and which I sometimes combine to create the description "shamanic-holographic").
Because according to many accounts from shamanic cultures around the world, the ordinary world in which we spend most of our waking hours is actually very much like the "simulations" to which the characters in the Divergent movie are forcibly subjected: in many important ways, it is projected and constructed out of our own mind, to the point that it takes on a kind of reality, but a reality that is actually subordinate to the deeper reality from which the simulation-world is being projected.
The reality that is the source of the simulation (or the hallucination, or the dream) is the unseen realm -- unseen, but just as real as the ordinary realm in which we normally move, and in fact perhaps more real in certain ways. Because the "simulation" realm which we generally think of as the "real world" is projected from the other realm, that hidden reality is sometimes referred to as the "seed world" or the "seed realm."
In his book Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts, discussed in the previous post, Dr. Jeremy Naydler describes the ancient Egyptian concept of the other realm, sometimes associated with a specific celestial conceptual paradigm called the Duat or the Dwat, in terms which very much resonate with this understanding of the totality of the seen and unseen aspects of reality:
The Egyptians were intensely aware that the world they lived in was more than just the world perceptible to the senses. It included a vast and complex supersensible component as well.
It would be a mistake, then, to regard the Dwat as simply the realm of the dead. It is the habitation of spirits, of beings that are capable of existing nonphysically. These include the essential spiritual energy or life energy of those beings and creatures that we see around us in the physical world. In the Dwat, everything is reduced to its spiritual kernel. Just as the forms of living plants, when they die, disappear from the visible world as they are received into the Dwat, so when the young plants unfold their forms again in the new year, they unfold them from out of the Dwat. This "hidden realm" (literally amentet, another term for the realm of the dead) is the originating source of all that comes into being in the visible world.
[. . .] In the Dwat, then, the essential forms of things exist inwardly in a more interior space -- a space that is prior to the external space into which they will unfold when they enter the world of physical manifestation. As for plants, so also for animals. Even the river Nile has its source in the Dwat. 83-84.
In a wonderful book I recently received entitled Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation, containing observations and experiences and teaching and insights from experienced shamanic practitioners and teachers and healers, including the book's co-authors Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman, as well as contributors Tom Cowan, Carol Proudfood-Edgar, Jose Luis Stevens, and Alberto Villoldo, there are many passages which attest to a similar understanding that the world of our "ordinary experience" is actually a projection of the unseen realm.
During one important passage, Hank Wesselman discusses a series of spontaneous dreamlike visions he experienced at the age of thirty while on a scientific research expedition in the East African Rift in southwestern Ethiopia. Explaining that he was reluctant to discuss them with his fellow scientists from western countries, who might be less than receptive to such ideas, he turned to some of the African tribal men with whom he had become friends over the years of work in the field, and when he did so, he "discovered that they held a perspective that was quite foreign to my scientist's way of thinking about the world" (xvi):
Right at the core of their worldview lay the perception that the multi-leveled field of the dream is the real world, that we human beings are actually dreaming twenty-four hours a day, and that the everyday physical world came into being in response to the dream, not vice versa. These assertions were always accompanied by a conviction, strongly held, that the dream world is minded, that it is consciousness itself -- alive, intelligent, and power-filled -- infusing everything that emanates from it with awareness, vitality, and life force. xvii.
This worldview, it must be noted, is strikingly harmonious to the worldview of the ancient Egyptians as described by Dr. Naydler in the passage cited above.
And, as shamanic practitioner and teacher Michael Drake points out in one of the numerous insightful pages on his website, there are statements attesting to the same understanding from shamanic peoples halfway around the world, in North America, citing a passage from the Lakota wichasha wakon or holy man Black Elk (1863 - 1950) who had experienced his first vision unbidden at the age of nine, and who stated that the unseen realm was actually "the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world."
That particular passage from Black Elk that he cites is an extremely insightful quotation that speaks directly to the concept that we are exploring, and it is also helpful to examine it in the context of what Black Elk is describing when he makes that particular statement -- which happens to be the vision of his second cousin, Crazy Horse, which was discussed in this previous post.
image: Wikimedia commons (link).
Black Elk was actually contemporaries with Crazy Horse -- Black Elk was born in December of 1863, and thus was 12 years of age and going on 13 during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in which Black Elk participated. Black Elk later held extended conversations with John G. Neihardt (1881 - 1973) during the years 1930 and 1931, which were published as Black Elk Speaks. Here is how Black Elk described the vision of Crazy Horse:
Crazy Horse's father was my father's cousin, and there were no chiefs in our family before Crazy Horse; but there were holy men; and he became a chief because of the power he got in a vision when he was a boy. When I was a man, my father told me something about that vision. Of course he did not know all of it; but he said that Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that world. He was on his horse in that world, and the horse and himself on it and the trees and the grass and the stones and everything were made of spirit, and nothing was hard, and everything seemed to float. His horse was standing still there, and yet it danced around like a horse made only of shadow, and that is how he got his name, which does not mean that his horse was crazy or wild, but that in his vision it danced around in that queer way.
It was this vision that gave him his great power, for when he went into a fight, he had only to think of that world to be in it again, so that he could go through anything and not be hurt. Until he was murdered by the Wasichus at the Soldiers' Town on White River, he was wounded only twice, once by accident and both times by some one of his own people when he was not expecting trouble and was not thinking; never by an enemy. [. . .]
[. . .] He never wanted to have many things for himself, and did not have many ponies like a chief. They say that when game was scarce and the people were hungry, he would not eat at all. He was a queer man. Maybe he was always part way into that world of his vision. He was a very great man, and I think if the Wasichus had not murdered him down there, maybe we should still have the Black Hills and be happy. They could not have killed him in battle. They had to lie to him and murder him. And he was only about thirty years old when he died.
This passage is absolutely incredible in the amount of profound wisdom that it imparts. We should each consider it carefully and thoughtfully, for there are many insights we can gain from thinking deeply about these words.
In light of the specific subject at hand, however, it offers some astonishing confirmation of everything we have seen from other shamanic cultures from far away and even from thousands of years ago. We see that this ordinary realm was seen to be less real in some ways than the unseen realm, which is actually the real one, and everything in our ordinary world is actually only a shadow of that one. That is to say, in some ways this world is an illusion, a dream -- and Crazy Horse seems to have been able to transcend the boundary between these worlds at will, and when doing so was unable to be harmed by weapons in this seemingly solid "ordinary realm."
And this point brings us back to the metaphor from the movie Divergent, because it is by remembering and realizing that she is in a simulation, a projection, an illusion or a dream that the protagonist Tris is able to transcend the seemingly-solid boundaries and barriers that exist in the simulation (and that other non-divergent characters cannot transcend when they are inside the simulation).
In other words, the world of the simulation in Divergent is a metaphor for this world that we seem to be living in, and the characters who are born with the unsought talent of transcending those barriers, and of perceiving when they are inside an illusion and that "this isn't real" are like the shamans who are able to transcend the boundaries of this world, and who have told us in no uncertain terms that this world is actually a projection of the unseen world, and that this one is actually in some ways a dream (modern theoretical physicists have proposed models that use the metaphor of a hologram).
As Hank Wesselman describes it, "we human beings are actually dreaming twenty-four hours a day." In terms of the metaphor, we are inside an induced simulation, and (like the non-divergent characters in the film), we normally cannot perceive that it is a simulation, and we treat it as though it is the only reality, when in fact there is a more real world "behind it" that is actually the source of this "twenty-four hour dream."
Some readers might be thinking by this point, "Does this mean, or do you intend to say, that this world is not real, and so I cannot be hurt if I walk in front of a truck driving down the freeway? Because if you are saying that, you're crazy and I'm not listening anymore."
No -- obviously that cannot be the message that Black Elk and the others are telling us. Black Elk specifically says that Crazy Horse was murdered, and he was murdered by ordinary physical weapons in this ordinary reality to which our consciousness is usually attuned. The world and everything in it may well be composed of waves of energy which our minds interpret as various objects and surfaces, and physicists will affirm that this is indeed the case -- but any surfer will tell you that waves need to be respected, and that they will spin you around like you're in a washing machine if you pick a fight with one or (worse yet) pretend that they aren't real.
But it does mean that, if reality is actually interpenetrated by an unseen realm, one from which this ordinary realm is in some way projected, then we need to be aware of and respectful of that other realm. It also means that, if contact with and even travel to that other realm are in fact possible, we may be able to obtain information from that other realm, or even to obtain power from that other realm as Crazy Horse did and which he used on behalf of his people -- and that changes effected in that other realm (which after all is the source of everything in the ordinary realm) can have real and meaningful changes on events and conditions in this ordinary realm.
It also means (or at least it has consistently been interpreted to mean, in cultures holding this worldview, as discussed at some length in my book The Undying Stars) that we do not have to fear the destruction of our material body in this realm, as our consciousness is not ultimately dependent upon this material realm, as taught by the ideology of materialism.
To return one more time to the metaphor with which we began this examination, it is also evident that the ability to perceive that this reality is not the only reality, and to be able to project back to that "source reality" can potentially get us out of a bad situation (as shown in the clip above). Certainly, Black Elk testifies that this was true in the case of Crazy Horse's life. And contemporary shamanic practitioners and teachers today, including those who share their experience and understanding in Awakening to the Spirit World, also attest that the ability to transcend this reality can be used to help get us out of bad situations in today's world as well.
These situations do not need to be horrible traps such as the one depicted in the film clip above, or even battle scenes such as those that Crazy Horse faced during his lifetime -- they may have to do with other situations we are struggling with individually, or bad situations that we face on a larger scale such as a societal or even a planetary scale.
Finally, Divergent offers a noteworthy metaphor in that those who have this "divergent" ability to "see through the simulation" and transcend the barriers that the oppressive rulers of the dystopia wish to impose on everyone (including the barriers that divide people up into mutually-distrustful "factions") are seen as extremely threatening to the oppressors, and are eliminated at all times whenever they are detected. There is abundant evidence throughout history, especially in "the West" during the past seventeen centuries or more, that this attitude has very often been the prevailing policy towards those who teach some version of the shamanic worldview -- and that shamanic cultures and teachers have frequently been eliminated whenever and wherever they have been detected down through the years.
And yet, as I noted at the end of the previous post as well, this information cannot be suppressed forever -- it tends to surface in unexpected ways, even after many years of lying dormant (just like a seed, in fact).
To that end, metaphors that can help explain and illustrate this vitally important subject (a subject which, admittedly, is one that our "left-brain" minds tend to reject immediately when it is first proposed), are extremely important. The Divergent metaphor of the "simulation-projection" and its ability to be transcended by those like Tris who are able to see through it thus becomes an excellent way to explain this concept, and to get the idea past our "left-brain gatekeeper" to where we can say, "Oh yeah, I could see how that would work."
And that's a very good thing, because the evidence seems to suggest that this in fact is exactly the way reality is indeed structured.