Johanna Lee Owen's Groupchat reading


The following text was presented by Johanna Lee Owen at Groupchat:

So what’s the worst that could happen if our material world evaporates out of our reach? If our material means of ritual vanish don’t you think we might all go insane? Or can rituals all be transposed into purely symbolic forms- for example, if I need a vase for my ritual, but there is no possible way to obtain a vase in my circumstances, does it suffice to simply imagine a vase in my head? I mean these are the questions we really have to consider if we are going to enter a purely virtual reality.

Theologians really will be confronted with problems like: can communion be taken virtually?

At some level I recognize an underlying need for ritual and “order” (which is mainly arbitrarily designated based on individual) across the entire human population. Who doesn’t know the feeling of being taunted by that lack of some component we are familiar with in our day?

Most people, I would think, have some demand for their burials to go a certain way. We imagine that our souls need some kind of particular ceremony to pass on in the correct way. Or maybe we just find some form of burial dignified and others not. So what consideration do we give to incomplete resolution of death? That is, people who never received the funeral their religion ascribed to them, or who were never found, never put to rest, never identified, whose remains were disturbed, whose souls were dishonored? What profound effects does the material world have on the spiritual world- and if the answer is “none,” then why do we bother with these processes meant to put us in touch with “The other side” at all (what is it doing for us- what is “grieving”)?

Necropolitics, Foucault definition of biopolitics - the power complex no longer wants to kill because it became haunted (trope of both George Bush and Biden “haunted” by the children they killed around the world). If they can keep the oppressed alive indefinitely but also oppressed indefinitely, then they never have to deal with being haunted. Every time an unresolved death happens, an unjust death, a ghost is made- in this way the balance of the spiritual order avenges material reality. These powerful politicians and corporate leaders around the world are knowledgeable about the occult order- we know this for plenty of reasons. It is the religions and spiritual paradigms they follow that outline how this works- they know they are either- going to hell, being attacked by angry spirits, or, because of their actions, have a soul that will travel the world for the rest of time deprived of rest. I think it caught on to them that if they really want total power, they have to not only carve things out for themselves in this life but in the next life and “on the other side” also. They don’t want martyrs, they want invalids who never die. They want to leave people disabled instead of dead. For these reasons, they both seek to live forever and to keep their slaves alive forever as well. It is related, but in some way also the exact opposite, of emperors who buried their slaves alive in the pyramids so they could be served in the next life.

IG Post late 2023:

When the girl you planned to bury alive with you in your viking grave so that she can serve as your sex slave in Valhalla starts running her mouth.

This is part of a formulation that gives new meaning to “fuck, marry, kill.” - sometimes it’s not about the people you want to run after, but the ones you want to take down with you.

I have a tattoo on my solar plexus which reads, “If you’re hard then why aren’t we fucking.” This started as a genuine plea to an unrequited love, a kind of action that acknowledged itself as self-rejecting (futile?) from the start (getting a tattoo, of course, was much less invasive— some kind of immediate acceptance of rejection— than passing a handwritten note). And then it became an acknowledgement of it’s own inappropriateness- “If you’re hard, then why aren’t we fucking-” Eventually, fans of the tattoo seemed to see it as the opposite of what it was when I originally wrote the slogan. People liked it as a rejection of an aggressive suitor- “If you want to be with me- ask yourself why we aren’t together….” The hint seems to lie in some kind of “It’s you, not me” scenario. Becoming married in-cemented the new meaning of the tattoo that it had taken on, as a kind of permanent rejection of any other lovers (but in this it was revealed to be a double-edged sword, retaining only a certain meaning for one but not others and meaning the opposite in all other instances). What the tattoo has ultimately morphed into, is something about the relationship I have with whoever finds or examines my body when I die. Now all I think about when I see it… When I’m staring down at the slight flab on my belly as I’m drying out from the shower- is what it will mean to the person who finds or treats my body after I die. I wonder if it ever could incite some necrophilic act on my dead body, or even cause me to be murdered (I assume probably not). But mostly I just wonder what the person or people who find my body will think of me, and laugh about the fact that I won’t care.

On lack:

Intermediate form of grieving I’ve become interested in to understand the mourning of passing on:

“Phantom limb syndrome is a condition in which patients experience sensations, whether painful or otherwise, in a limb that does not exist. It has been reported to occur in 80-100% of amputees, and typically has a chronic course, often resistant to treatment.”

“Phantom limb pain occurs after an amputation.”

-phantom garments - virginia woolf - weighted clothing and therapeutic weighted blankets. When I wear my glasses or sunglasses for long enough, I start to feel the impression of them always there even when they are not.

On spiritual rituals pertaining to the dead:

-rituals to restore souls that have not been laid to rest (ghosts)- Christian exorcisms- other forms of exorcism?

-Hmong dab soul-stealing spirits and spirit restoring rituals


On futuristic mass insanity scenarios:

-12 monkeys quote on keeping time

On the relationship of death to virtual reality:

-digital graves

-multiple contexts of AI imagined as a way for the dead to be reanimated or speak to us through “the machine” - particularly popular trope in anime (more positive or esoteric imagining of this trope) and sci-fi (more dystopian): Pico Iyer business conference notes, “Ghost in the Machine,” “Serial Experiments Lain”, “Upload”, “Black Mirror”

On events in which people were not given proper burial due to ecological and social disasters:

-extinction of vultures due to cattle vaccines → extinction of dakhma burial ritual which relies on vultures

-other examples in which the extinction or other ecological barriers to natural resources have fundamentally changed the material nature of rituals in which those materials relate to some kind of spiritual process or belief- how does this fundamentally alter the effect of the ritual or what are the ways belief evolves/addresses a lack of these resources in the ritual system

-vietnam war. Children shot for crying to save their entire families while on the run in the forest. Excerpts from “when the spirit catches you you fall down.” magnitude of bodies left in the forest when this violated their belief.

-In Palestine:

Mosab Abu Toha -

“Just for a moment, think about yourself in Gaza getting killed in an airstrike, your body has nothing in it that tells who you are. You are left in a street for days and weeks. Your body starts to decompose. When people reach you, it’s too late, they won’t know who you are. They wrap you in a plastic bag, bury you in a yard somewhere away from your home. Even your family won’t know whether you are still alive or not. They won’t even know where you are buried. This HAUNTS me. JUST FOR A MOMENT.”

“In Gaza a mother collects her daughter’s flesh in a piggy bank hoping to buy her a grave on a river that has no bank.”

Components to bombs that are lethal besides the blast:

-pressure from blast wave




-purposefully auxiliary harmful components


-”Modernization” of funerary rituals- how is the marketplace influencing decisions people make about burial and what options is it introducing. Reference: Madeleine Andersson work on toilets as a pinpoint for “optimization culture”

-Celebrations of Death Peter Metcalf - information on how anthropologists view this issue. Specifically chapter on American sociological aspects.

On climate change (not sure if this will play in- will have on hand as a thought):

-I do not see the necessity of convincing people of global warming as an ecological concept per se when all of the elements of pollution that play into global warming are readily available examples of an unhealthy relationship with nature which violate ancient notions of the relationships between human and nature and the benefit of maintaining healthy surroundings. That is, greenhouse gasses are in themselves pollution, heat waves, cold snaps, and natural disasters are forms of pollution, every traditional concept of pollution such as trash or smog are so inherently related to global warming that even if people are only concerned with limited aspects of their experience of the environment these are all still direct inroads to healthy ecological practices. Do we need to come up with a new concept of environmental care around the climate change regime or is the problem more simply that we have abandoned our original values relating to our environment? By which I mean our literal surroundings.

-Synthetic chemical change contributions to global environmental change are just as concerning as fossil fuels. Everything plays together

Potential incorporations/will have on hand:

-human scum piece listing various form of “scum” i have had on me at some point in life, how closeness to these forms of compounds makes one feel like “human scum”

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