Homo sapiens have been trying to transcend humanity since time immemorial, whether it was the Egyptian pharaohs entombing themselves along with their earthly belongings because they believed they would be there for them in the afterlife, or the Judeo-Christian belief that your soul will return to God in heaven after death. I have always believed that a core piece of the human experience is fear of death, and that this drives the desire to break free from it one way or another – through religion, magick, or more recently, technological advancements. Regardless, humans have always sought more than their mortal coil.
For modern times, the alternate route to religion tends to be technological and health advancements. People work hard at a healthy lifestyle (extreme dieting and exercise), sign up for cryonics, and possibly seek out plastic surgery as well. This is called Transhumanism, and their overall goal is to use technology to become what they call “post-human,” or beyond human. For some, this could mean becoming a data upload of their mind with no physical body; or taking psycho-enhancing drugs and anti-aging treatments; as well as implanting nanotech in their body. Of course, a lot of this technology doesn’t exist yet, and likely won’t for a long time, and that is why many of these Transhumanists sign up for cryonics. Cryonics is allowing yourself to be frozen in liquid nitrogen after developing a medical condition that cannot be cured by current medical technology, and expecting to be unfrozen once that technology does exist so that you can be treated. For Transhumanists, this comes with the double expectation that then there will also be nanotechnology and anti-aging technology that will help them achieve the post-human status that they desire.
Transhumanism has a lot of inherent “ifs.” This is part of what makes it exciting, but also what makes it very scary. At its core, Transhumanism is about achieving something beyond yourself while using the tools that humanity has created to aid you in this quest; they consider it the next step in human evolution. In many ways, Transhumanism reminds me of one of the more ancient traditions of transcending oneself, and that is the practice of theurgy.
In western esoteric tradition, there is a concept of “as above, so below.” This means that everything within the universe (or God, depending on how you want to look at it) and the world is reflected within yourself; you have the world within yourself, you have God within yourself. The ultimate goal of Theurgy, or “divine work,” is to reach henosis, or “union” with divinity – the union of your above and below. Theurgy is considered a form of white magick, and the first records of it are found in Neo-platonic writings in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Even then it was connected to ritual and meditation, but it has since been connected to many other occult traditions. Mainly it has been adopted by Jewish mysticism with Kabbalah, and then adopted by Hermeticism with their form of Qabalah. Theurgy is all about invoking name of God, and adding the Qabalah gave it many aspects of God one could invoke for various magickal reasons, such as soothing ones anxiety and becoming more confident, or for one’s health. The goal is to eventually reach the top of the tree of life, and become one with your own Godhood, and achieve a self-perfection.
There are certain similarities between Transhumanism and Theurgy, but they are achieved through entirely different means. One thing that can be said, though, is that there is not a lot of provability between either, other than much of humanity will always try to transcend themselves in some way or another; whether that is attempting to cheat death through religion or magick, or become some sort of perfect being through technology or extreme health exercises. What all of this tells me is that perfecting oneself and achieving the magnum opus – whatever that means for you – is part of the human experience, and what we are all here for.