Archaeologies of Consciousness: Essays in Experimental Prehistory by Gyrus
This short collection of expansive essays and book reviews is the first publication completely authored by Gyrus, editor of the late-1990s underground magazine Towards 2012 and the ongoing periodical Dreamflesh: A Journal of Ecological Crisis & Archaeologies of Consciousness. Much like Time & Mind, the title of this anthology reflects its author’s interest in exploring the prehistory of mind and its changing states of consciousness. This is not an academic text however – although academics may find it fascinating reading – and the author makes no bones about his exploratory methods.
“The underpinning structures of the past that archaeology can substantiate should be respected; but to just leave them be, guarded by a cold, “This is all we can know”, both disrespects imagination and leaves us prey to the potential for seeing the past as a mere skeleton – truly dead and desiccated.”
Embodying such an attitude to research, Archaeologies of Consciousness has a playful approach in which in-depth study is informed by experiments involving ritual, altered states, dreamwork and a “general larking about with consciousness”. The end result is a kind of Gravesian mélange of synchronicities. The research probably fits most comfortably alongside a growing body of psychic archaeology like that of Frederick Bligh Bond, J. Norman Emerson and Stephan Schwartz. Regrettably, this type of research has often been considered nothing less than heretical by the orthodoxy, yet it would be a travesty to reject what it has to offer to archaeology merely for being unorthodox.
Gyrus’ freestyle research methods also carry over to his writing, which tends to be illustrative and speculative rather than evidential or conclusive, and while this may be unsatisfying for the more traditional academics the content is compelling because it dares to dream. The text takes a roaming path across a varied landscape, with the author reflexively admitting that while “there are clear conceptual threads weaving throughout…there is no attempt at a coherent argument”. A good example of this appears in the first and longest essay, The Devil and the Goddess, which carries the reader off on a wild romp across the moors of the mind. Starting with Satanism, it progresses through social Darwinism, Nietzsche, Taoism, Paganism, the Goddess, kundalini, hermaphroditism, blood sacrifice, menstruation, schizophrenia, birth, and then finally into the archaeology of consciousness without ever looking back.
Whether it is defending shamanism as a valid perspective on rock art, or literally ‘de-lineating’ our concept of chronological time and history, reading this book is like going on a series of journeys, or pilgrimages into prehistory. In The Goddess of Wharfdale for instance we are taken on a voyage through ritual and research that casts a wide net over the origins and significance of the cup and ring designs found on the rocks of Ikley Moor in Yorkshire. The article takes an intriguing turn through etymology in the search for the true identity of Verbeia, the 3rd century goddess of the River Wharfe, and, among other things, adumbrates some curious connections between the recent folk uses of the ring designs on rocks in Scotland and their possible association with the pagan goddess Bridget.
Clearly with such a methodology many of the essays in this collection are geared towards a pagan or occult-friendly readership, making the writing somewhat guilty of preaching to the converted. Thankfully though, Gyrus’ spiritual slant is far from fundamentalist, and while Christianity is in for a hard time here and there, the author is extremely honest about his position. Indeed, it is Gyrus’ participatory approach to his subject matter that gives it such authenticity, whether or not we agree with the associations he makes along the way. For instance its easy to believe the author when we read that ingesting psychedelics whilst inspecting rock art helped him to discover the synesthetic qualities of the designs; their visual form appearing to shift with the tones of his voice. But not only that, when he weaves together notions of synesthetic rock art with modern ‘transmedia’, ideas about entoptics, altered states, and the visual aspect of ayahuasca songs – even though no solid relationship between them is ever made – I nevertheless believe that he is sketching an image of truth that is somehow more honest than that provided by the orthodox perspective. In the end I find myself in agreement with Julian Cope, who writes in the foreword that Gyrus is both worthy of our trust and our gratitude for conducting this research and writing this slim but engrossing book. I only hope it is a precursor to a larger and more preplanned publication.
This review, written by David Luke, is reproduced here with thanks to Berg Publishers for granting permission. Copyright is still retained. This article originally appeared as: Luke, D. P. (2008). Archaeologies of consciousness: Essays in experimental prehistory, by Gyrus. [book review]. Time & Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness & Culture, 1 (2), 261-262.
Archaeologies of Consciousness: Essays in Experimental Prehistory. By Gyrus. London: Dreamflesh Press (2007). Pp. 174. £8 (inc p + p within the UK). ISBN 095480547X