Source material for an anthropology of the future

Ceremonial plate

Spirit weapon

Spirit weapon

Triple Ripple stones

Maintaining the energies of Art, science and religion in happy balance is a matter of daily concern in the Afterculture. The ubiquitous Triple Ripple sign cut into these stones shows the three in harmony.

Sacred traditions emerge from a people with deeply shared beliefs. Such a people usually develop a rich decorative language that brings their cosmology into everyday life. So it is that medieval Christians, Hopis, Tibetans or Celts all “read” their art as surely as we our roadsigns.

Another measure of a culture is how it honors three basic human urges: the inclination towards beauty of art , the desire to measure and manipulate the manifest world, or science, and the pull of the invisible and transcendental which animates religion. Art, science and religion each generate marvelous insights and experiences--and each is susceptible to obsession and to marginalizing the others. When this happens on a grand scale, history has its moments of obsession such as the Inquisition. These unbalanced times are easy to spot in hindsight, but we tend to be hypnotized when they happen in the present (as in our blindness to today’s dictatorship of Big Science).

When these three forces are gracefully balanced, they free our attention to move in another direction, which in the Triple Ripple design of the Afterculture (above) is the opening at the very center of the three ripples. This might be called the directionless direction--the Great Mystery--and it lies beyond the confines of any discipline or methodology. Moving in this direction, people and institutions flower, wisdom grows, and golden ages unfold.

Young men entering the High-Tension Kiva

Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome--every civilization has had a given life span. Eventually it uses up its resources, ages, becomes unable to respond to new challenges--and collapses. We find it difficult to believe this could happen to us. But if---or when--our modern civilization plays out, what would come after?
In the West-African language of Akan, there is a word, Sankofa, which means “returning to the past in order to move forward.” Aware of the environmental and spiritual catastrophes of our time, the folk who emerged afterward might instinctively turn to the simpler life-support patterns of indigenous people. Become an indigenous people.
It is an intriguing thought. Here is a look at a possible future where our children’s children’s children have evolved into a new kind of native people, and are searching out appropriate ways to “walk in a sacred manner” once more.

Chaos-vision Drum

Spirit Shield

Emergence Mother (Gaiamama)

For the vast spread of our time on earth, traditional tribal life-patterns have successfully maintained ecological and spiritual balance and we must now turn to them for guidance if we are to escape our present crisis. A worthy tribal culture of the future would not be a simple return to archaic practices but would be an evolutionary synthesis of old and new. Imagine a people grounded in Traditional life-patterns who gracefully incorporate the useful scientific knowledge and global spiritual understandings of our time. To be truly sustainable, they would by necessity have a radically simplified life style.

Secret initiations

Shaman's robe

There will be a restoration of cultural biodiversity. The Forest People are learning to live as simply as a herd of deer.

Power-Rising totem

Standing Stone

Flow painters preparing ritual space

Great Marriage Sand painting

Route 82 & 30 near what was once Coatesville

Final Thoughts

America has always been a land of destiny. We have always looking forward to a rosy future, first by westward expansion, then via Tom Swift and his Electric Things, But the realities of ill-conceived ideals have finally caught up to us. The West was bought by genocide, Tom Swift left us with nuclear dumps and ozone holes. There are still official candidates for the Cool Tomorrow. There's the Bill Gates's Virtual World where everyone's on-line, and your home says hello--but no one's particularly interested except LCD manufacturers. Star Trek had the hum for a while, but cyberpunk science seems more plausible now. Becoming a dot com millionaire and retiring at 25 would be admirable, but behind every shining Epcot City the rain forests are burning, and we all smell the smoke.

The truth is that for the first time we are bereft of a positive vision of where we are going. This is particularly evident among kids. Their future is either Road Warrior post-apocalypse, or Blade Runner mid-apocalypse. All the futuristic computer games are elaborations of these scenarios, heavy metal worlds where civilization has crumbling into something weird and violent (but more exciting than now).

The AFTERCULTURE is an attempt to transmute this folklore of the future into something deep and rich and convincingly real. If we are to pull a compelling future out of environmental theory and recycling paradigms, we are going to have to clothe the sacred in the romantic. The Afterculture is part of an ongoing work to shape a new mythology by sources as diverse as Thoreau and Conan and Dances with Wolves and Iron John. The Afterculture is not "against" the problems of our times, and its not about "band-aid solutions" to the grim jam we find ourselves in. It's about opening up a whole new category of solutions, about finding another way of being: evolved, simpler, deeper, even more elegant. Even more cool. Even very cool.

--Michael Green