Oscillation and the mercurial mind: part 1
Expanding on the concept of oscillation in metamodernism
This is the first in a 2-part series that explores the question of oscillation in the context of metamodern magick.
It feels important to examine the term oscillation. What does it mean, in general, to oscillate? The word comes from the Latin oscillare, meaning “swing.” To oscillate is to swing back and forth, either between physical points in spacetime or between “extremes of opinion, action, or quality” (Oxford Languages). Another definition from the realm of physics tells us that oscillation is the “regular variation in magnitude or position around a central point.” It’s important as well to name that in acoustics, oscillation is defined as a slow, consistent vibration between minimum and maximum values or positions.
Oscillation in metamodernism is described as swinging back and forth between extremes of postmodernist and modernist affect–hopelessness and hope, cynicism and naivete. Yet, it wouldn’t really be oscillation if the movement wasn’t focused around a central point. So, what is this central point around which the metamodern sensibility oscillates? I want to argue that it is an unseen conjunction of opposites, or a liminal space of “both/and.”
The conjunction of opposites is a theme prevalent throughout the ancient wisdom traditions of east and west alike. A well known photograph of Hermes Trismegistus, a Romanised version of the Egyptian god Tehuti (or Thoth, as he is more commonly known), shows him either splitting or conjoining the sun and the moon, his arms outstretched in an outwards display of power.
Trismegistus is credited with developing the Hermetic principles, a set of 7 claims about how reality works. One of these principles is that of polarity:
Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled. (Three Initiates, p 32)
In Carl Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, he examined the psychological nature of the alchemists of the European Renaissance, which was a re-imagining of the alchemical traditions of ancient Egypt and Greece. He even stated that “the opposites and their symbols are so common in the texts that it is superfluous to cite evidence from the sources” (Jung, 1970, p. 29).
According to Jung, oscillation is a key aspect of the alchemical tradition. Alchemists oscillate between a range of extremes—moist and dry, life and death, sun and moon. The implication in all contexts is that opposites can be reconciled; this belief is a defining feature of Western magick, from these older alchemical traditions to the more modernised versions such as Wicca.
It becomes clear at this point that oscillation is not a distinctly metamodern mental phenomenon in and of itself. So what distinguishes metamodern oscillation from other types of oscillation? And what is the central point around which the metamodern magician oscillates?
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