A lot has happened since my initial post on the topic of AI and the bardic arts in mid-October. At this point, AI is being discussed in many different places by many different communities and groups. AI is all the rage now, and seemingly almost overnight, it has become a billion-dollar industry. I’ve had further time to reflect, engage, and really think about the role of AI and my own take on it. But also, some really concerning trends on the metaphysical side have emerged, and I want to talk about those in today’s post. Specifically, I want to explore some issues surrounding using AI-generated content for rituals, oracles, tarot decks, or other spiritual tools.
AI and Humanity
Before I delve into the discussion of magic and AI, I want to provide some overviews about what AI does and the arguments against it, because this is important to foreground my discussion of magic.
Given all of the new technologies and developments, I am still in agreement with my initial assessment in my first AI post. I’ll briefly summarize here: AI technologies are, at their core, designed to eliminate the human from the equation, or at minimum, put the human into a significantly reduced and less skilled role. AI-generated art, text, music, and so on is just the latest iteration of the myth of progress narrative and the industrialization of the world, a movement that has been going on for three centuries and one that is currently threatening all life on this planet. Just like earlier iterations, machines replace people for the benefit of speed and efficiency, and at the loss of skill, focus, and the flow of Awen. Where has this myth of progress led us? Modern humans living in Western society depend on society for nearly everything: they cannot produce their own food, shelter, clothing, or warmth. They cannot take care of themselves. Their identities are completely determined by their consumption: the clothing they buy, the brands they associate with, and the other consumer products they use (gaming, music, etc). And soon, they won’t be able to create for themselves either, because the machine will do that too. The result is that we have a society that thrives on conveniences at the expense of connections. These technologies serve to disconnect us from the world around us, with the flow of awen in our lives, and make us more dependent on the same system that is killing the planet. These technologies also distance us from being producers ourselves–and that means we understand less about the impact of the goods or services we consume–and their impact on life on this planet.
One argument in favor of AI is that AI is just another tool, in the way that a camera is a tool for a photographer. Tools help people do things but they still require the skill of the user. AI is fundamentally something very different–and this difference matters from a magical perspective. If I use a nice camera to take a photograph, I am still holding the camera, staging, selecting the composition, and interacting with my subject matter. If AI creates a photograph for you, all that skill is lost–there is no actual scene, there is no staging, no composition, and no interaction. AI is essentially commissioning another artist to produce work for you–you tell the AI what you want and the AI produces a piece. That’s an artistic commission, not an artistic practice or tool. The difference is that AI is cheaper and much faster at it than one would commission a human artist. Thus, AI is not a tool, it is a replacement for a creator. AI fully replaces human creators, and that’s a problem.
The broader problem as I see it is that in mechanizing the world and in turning people into consumers, we’ve also seen a major loss of a really important thing for human development and consciousness–the cultivation of a rich inner life and a deep connection to nature. Things like mindless consumerism, screens, mechanization, and now, AI, really cut into the possibility of having a rich inner life…without a rich inner life, we do not get to be actualized people.
AI, Magic, and Inner Realms
If we apply animistic philosophy to the above discussion, the problems start to compound. In animist philosophy, everything has spirit. Everything. That includes not only things in nature like trees, rocks, rivers, and horses, but also things that are human-created–cars, phones, and, you guessed it, software. Since all things come from nature and have spirit, and we humans come from nature and have spirit, then AI has spirit too. What worries me is that I’m not really sure of what the spirits of the machine, of the AI, have in mind. Since AI has been created for obvious capitalist reasons, you can draw your own conclusions. As part of my primary spiritual practice as a land healer, I’ve unfortunately interacted with spirits tied to these larger industrial processes, capitalism, land grabs, fracking wells, and so on, and I can tell you, spirits tied up in these systems can be pretty terrifying. Now the landscape that the capitalists aren’t seeking to grab is physical but creative and metaphysical. What kinds of entities and beings get drawn in?
Now we get to the new thing that has me deeply concerned: the use of AI to create or help create spiritual tools (tarot, oracles), AI-assisted spiritual books, and AI-assisted rituals, poems and prayers. In the last few months on social media, in places like TikTok, and Instagram, some people are starting to share metaphysically oriented products that are created with AI (tarot decks, divination systems) as well as rituals and texts that are created with AI. One well-known author even indicated that all of their books moving forward would be done, in part, with artificial intelligence support for writing. More and more people are using things like Chat-GPT to write rituals, prayers, and other spiritual tools. I’ve also seen this present in the druid community, using these AI tools to create material for use in sacred ceremonies.
So, as my readers likely know, I’ve created three divination decks and have written multiple books on magic and nature spirituality. I thought it might be helpful to break down the magical process of creating a tarot deck, book, or ritual to help you understand why using AI to assist or write/create these materials is bad news.
Tarot decks and other divination systems are inherently magical objects, connecting us in the physical world to the world of spirit. The best decks, the ones that really work and that have power, are those that are created with support from the spirit realm. To bring a card from the deck into manifestation, different artists use different approaches, but nearly all of them are spirit led. My process looks something like the following: first, I want to really think about the layers of meaning of the card–what is the energy I want to convey? How do the different interpretations layer onto my understanding? What angle do I want to take? Then, I do some things to connect to the spirit of that energy. For the Plant Spirit Oracle (PSO), for example, I would visit each of these plants both physically and work with them on the physical realm (e.g. I’d spent time with Rosemary, work with her, make a rosemary tea, make medicine from her, sit with her, observe her, maybe do some sketching, and so on). Then, I’d do one or several spirit journeys to meet rosemary. From those spirit-led interactions, the plant spirits would give me an image to paint. I’d work on that painting, and journal about the entire experience, taking notes, which eventually helped me write the book that goes with the card. Once that work felt finished, then I’d start the entire process again. Sometimes, the next spirit would be ready for me to work with them as soon as I finished the previous card; at one point I had a whole line of plant spirits waiting to be included in the deck! That’s exactly how the PSO got finished. So when you use the PSO, you are able to connect to the energy of Ground Ivy, Poison Ivy, Turkey Tail mushroom, and so forth directly. Why? Because the plants themselves had a hand in creation–they are there, present in the cards, and are depicted in a way that they determined they would appear in the cards. I was the vessel of creation–I painted what images they gave me to paint, so the plant spirits are rendered as they see fit. This is why this deck works and why so many people enjoy using it: because it is a vessel for the transmission of the plant spirits themselves and through using it, they can connect deeply with those plants, journey to meet them and use their medicine of spirit. And I will say that generally, you can tell when a deck has been spirit led–it has an energy to it, a depth, and it certainly works and connects with something beyond itself. It resonates.
So my big question is–what spirits have a hand in the creation of an AI-created tarot deck? What spirits are connecting to the person who commissions a deck from AI? What spirits will you connect with as you use an AI-created deck? Who is providing those messages and answers to you? Did the human commissioner of the AI-based deck do any metaphysical work in order to create this, and what did that work look like? What about the somewhat disturbing and off-putting nature of many of the AI images (e.g people who aren’t whole, with two heads, etc)? When you put energy into this deck, where is it going? I am not sure I am interested in learning the answers to any of these questions, particularly if the spirits of AI are anything like the spirits of any other industrial processes. But what I say is that under no circumstances will I touch anything spiritual that has been created with AI. Tread very carefully, friends.
What about books, rituals, and AI-text generators–the ChatGPT phenomenon? Just like divination systems, magical books are about metaphysical things, they are spirit-led and spirit infused. Magical books require an ethical and experienced author, they require the flow of awen, and they certainly require years of putting in the work before starting to write. Writing a book is the final step of cultivating years and years of expertise on a topic. In other words, when I write anything on a spiritual topic (a book or a blog post, for example), it’s not just about putting words on the page–it is about the experiences, the way in which I choose to share those experiences, and the spirit of things. The idea of asking AI to write a ritual or a magical book is just unreal to me. What does the AI possibly know about magic? What kind of advice could it possibly give? There are many things that we could ask a machine to do (like say, our laundry), but writing about our magic, spirituality, and creating ceremonies should never be one of them. What would be the results of a ritual designed in part by AI? What about prayers to deities designed by AI? What does AI know about human spirituality? The argument is that the AI would read across tens of thousands of texts and then bring them together to write something new–but what if those 10,000 texts are coming from different and incompatible traditions? I shudder at the thought of this stuff making its way into the world–and it is making its way into its world very quickly.
So on the matter of writing spiritual books, for example, in order to write Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices (RedFeather, 2022) or my upcoming Healing Hands: Physical and Metaphysical Approaches for Healing the Earth (RedFeather, 2024), I had to both put in the sweat equity but also have the blessings of the spirits. For either of these books, everything in them is what I tried, lived, and experimented with, and everything is something I learned from. This is a lifetime of work, learning these techniques, testing them out, and most importantly–failing and learning from my mistakes. Sacred Actions took me 10 years to write and publish. The Land healing book was started in 2014, and was only completed in 2022. How could an AI replicate that expertise and those years of putting in the work? The truth is, it can’t. What it can do, and what it does, is collage material together from multiple sources of information–and that material may not work–the material that ChatGPT creates has never been tested by an advanced practitioner. Further, different traditions have different guardian spirits, different energies they work with, and different approaches. This is all to say, I would not trust AI technology to write rituals, or books, on human spiritual practices. This is playing with fire, and you will likely get burned.
What I’m describing above is the way I create sacred works–artwork and books–that go into the world. It is slow. Most of these projects take 3-5 years or longer. A human commissioning an AI to create a tarot deck could produce a deck probably in a few hours or days….but at what cost? At the cost of the spirit inherent in things? At the cost of sacredness or connection? At the cost of those who use it?
I really don’t know the answers to the questions, but I suspect time will tell. I’m simply raising these issues now as serious concerns for the use of AI in metaphysical practices in any way, shape, or form.
As I really delve deeply into all of this, I’ve made a personal commitment to stay away from AI-generated spiritual stuff as much as possible. This means I will be purchasing new works with skepticism, researching authors carefully, and making sure that whatever I am getting is 100% human-made and human-produced. And I will commit that anything I produce (blog posts, artwork, decks, courses, etc) will always be 100% human-made and spirit supported.
In the Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry writes, “Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, we have to choose. We can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.” Wendell Berry’s words resonate deeply with me on this issue because I really feel like this is such a pivotal moment for humanity: not only for issues of AI but really for this entire civilization–what it values, what it prizes, and the direction it’s heading. We are watching everything on this planet that is not human die and we are watching our climate grow unstabilized and dangerous. And still, we plow forward faster than ever, seeking the most efficient means to troubled ends. Efficiency and the myth of progress are moving us in the wrong direction. We need radical change toward life-affirming ways of thinking, being, and living in the world.
Personally, I’ve long been skeptical of most technologies humans take for granted, and the more that I distance myself from this fast-paced, insane culture, the better I feel. It’s why I take 10-day spiritual retreats without screens, it’s why I choose to manage a homestead with sweat equity over fossil fuels, and it’s why I make small changes in my life to be more connected, slow, and earth honoring: such as making my own paints and bakeing in an earth oven. I have no problem with appropriate technologies that can perform basic labor (washing clothes or pumping water to my house being a good example), but generally speaking, I like doing things the slow way, the connected way, and the way that allows me–through these doings–to be the best human being I can be. I wasn’t always like this, but the more that time passes, the more that I feel that less technology and more connection is the right place for me. Ultimately, we have a choice between being slow, earth-honoring, and connected or ultra-efficient and life-destroying–and I’ll throw my lot in with the earth every day.
PS: To follow up on my first post on AI-generated images, I do have some updates:
AI art is built using massive databases of billions of images. Artists from all over the world had their work has been stolen and put in the big “research” database (LAION-5B, etc). This has resulted in several lawsuits, including one class action lawsuit by artists for artists, Getty Images has another lawsuit in progress, an artist-led campaign to hire a lobbyist to change the laws surrounding art (which now is almost fully funded). There are a lot of culture wars taking place on social media. Artists and copyright holders are putting up a lot of resistance, and for everyone fighting the hard fight, I’m grateful. If you are an artist, you can see if your work is in the database and request removal using the HaveIbeentrained site.