Tag: consciousness

Recent events and some talks on the way

As many other people were, in recent weeks I was saddened by the terrible events in Ukraine. In my own case I can say that it was one of the few times when I was disappointed to have been proved right. How so? In my book The Return of Holy Russia I point out that Ukraine, and especially Kyiv, have a peculiar attraction for Vladimir Putin, and not only in the sense of his apparent aim to regain the “near abroad,” the lands lost to Russia with the breakup of the USSR. As I show in the book, Kyiv in the time of Kievan Rus’, was the birthplace of what we know as Russia, and it remains in the Russian cultural consciousness as a kind of Golden Age, what is called “the Lost Kingdom”, their equivalent, say, to the Arthurian legends. And in AD 989, when Vladimir I converted from Slavic paganism to Greek Orthodox Christianity, the Russians became the “Christ-bearing people,” a character that would later give rise to ideas of Moscow as the “Third Rome,” following the fall of the first and the loss of the second, Constantinople, to the Turks in 1453. Out of this came the notion of “Holy Russia,” a mantle that, cynically or not, Putin does seem to be gesturing to, in order to give the Russian people some sense of identity and purpose, something that seems to have eluded them since the economic free fall of the late 1990s. If nothing else, the sixty foot statue to Vladimir I he had erected just outside the Kremlin in 2015 suggests that the current Vladimir identifies more than a bit with his namesake.

When the book came out it drew some attention, mostly, it seemed, from readers interested in Russian Freemasonry, which I do write about – at least this was what I could tell when I saw that it had hit No. 1 in Freemasonry on amazon. Soon after Putin sent his troops across the border, I saw that the book was getting some attention again – I think it was No. 1 in Secret Societies this time. Although I can’t say I wasn’t pleased with this and didn’t mumble a sub-vocal “I told you so,” I was unhappy about the reason why. Not long after, David Fuller of Rebel Wisdom got in touch and asked if I would be up for talking about the book. Here is a link to that conversation. In it I refer to some material I go into in Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump that has quite a bit about Russia and the strange geopolitical ideas informing the Russian president.

I had an earlier conversation about Holy Russia with Jeffrey Mishlove, and here’s the link to that video.

And for a quick look on some of the people on Putin’s reading list, you can check out this short article on “The Philosopher Tsar.”

On a less troubling note, my latest book, Dreaming Ahead of Time: Experiences with Precognitive Dreams, Synchronicity and Coincidence is now out in paperback and Kindle in the UK, and Kindle only until May 24 in the US.

I’ve done two interviews with Jeffrey Mishlove based on the book. One is devoted for the most part to dreaming; the other to time.

And I’ve done podcasts about the book with Aeon Byte , The Higherside Chats and Rune Soup.

On May 27 I’ll be continuing my series of lectures on a Short History of Occultism for the Last Tuesday Society with my segment on C.G. Jung, the mystic who masqueraded as a psychologist – or was that the other way around…

I’ve added some extra lectures to the series:

On May 12 I’ll be talking about my experiences with precognitive dreams, based on the new book.

On July 5 I’ll be talking about Rudolf Steiner: Spiritual Scientist

On August 23 we’ll be looking at the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius: The Occult Roots of the 1960s.

And on September 28 it’s Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and the Fourth Way.

On April 5 I will be making my first live appearance since last Halloween, at the London Fortean Society gathering at the Miller Pub in Borough. I will be talking about precognitive dreams and I can tell in advance that you will all be there…

On April 10 I will be talking about Dreaming Ahead of Time to Theosophical Society.

On April 25 I will be back in zoomland, speaking once again about my dreams – and yours – to the Science and Medical Network.

But in June, I will be joining Iain McGilchrist, John Pickering, Shantena Sabbadini, and other engaging speakers at the Pari Center in Tuscany, Italy, for a weeklong exploration of the idea of Re-Visioning Consciousness. I will be talking about my experiences with dreams, hypnagogia, synchronicity and other unordinary experiences and will do my best to put any participants to sleep during a workshop aimed at inducing these strange states.

I hope you can join me in some, if not all, of these events.

What’s On Its Way in 2022

Here are some talks on their way in the new year – one, I hope, that will be kind to us all.

January 11 I’ll be giving the first of three talks providing a Short History of Modern Occultism for the Last Tuesday Society. The opener is Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was one of the most remarkable and influential women of the nineteenth century, and the Theosophical Society, which she founded in NYC in 1875, profoundly shaped modern culture. And yes she was a deft hand at materialising all sorts of things, and studied occultism in a secret monastery in Tibet.

January 13 I’ll be on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking discussing my precognitive dreams with Matthew Sweet on a program devoted to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.

January 16 I’ll be speaking to the Theosophical Society about the mysterious figure, Hermes Trismegistus, fabled founder of magic and philosophy, whose teachings influenced ancient thought, Christianity, the Renaissance, and the modern occult world. The talk will be based on my book The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus.

January 18 my online course on The History of Western Esotericism begins for the California Institute of Integral Studies. The course will follow my books The Secret Teachers of the Western World and The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus. It isn’t open to the public; you need to be enrolled at CIIS to attend.

January 27 is the UK publication date for my new book Dreaming Ahead of Time: Experiences with Precognitive Dreams, Synchronicity and Coincidence. In it I look at my experiences with “dreaming ahead of time,” – that is, of the future – over the past forty years, and how other “time haunted men,” such as J.W. Dunne, J.B. Priestley, Arthur Koestler, C.G. Jung, and others have tried to understand what must be the strangest paranormal phenomena of them all.

February 17 I’ll be giving an online talk for Watkins Bookshop about Dreaming Ahead of Time.

February 20 I’ll be discussing precognition and other odd things about dreams with Carl Abrahamson at Morbid Anatomy. It’s not up on their events page yet; when it is I will let you know.

March 8 I’ll be giving the second talk of my three part series A Brief History of Modern Occultism for the Last Tuesday Society. This time’s it’s everyone’s favourite bad boy, Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Magician in the World. Crowley did more in his rambunctious, super-sized life than most people do throughout all their incarnations. I’ll take the scenic route through his magical, sexual, drug and other excesses, providing a blow-by-blow account of how the Great Beast became the “man we’d like to hang!” If you want to prepare, you can read all about in my book Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World.

March 27 I’ll be winding up my Brief History of Modern Occultism with a look and the life and strange times of C. G. Jung, the Lord of the Underworld, who shared with Crowley a place among “those we like” on the cover of the Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s album. More than anyone else in the 20th century, Jung re-introduced magical and mystical ideas about the human soul, through his profound exploration of the human psyche, mostly his own. Jung’s descent in the unconscious following his breakup with Freud led to his discovery of the Collective Unconscious, with its mysterious compelling archetypes. And his notion of synchronicity – “meaningful coincidence” – put magic on the psychological map. All is told in my book Jung the Mystic.

April 25 I’ll be telling my dreams again, this time to the Science and Medical Network.

June 25 I’ll be speaking about the paranormal life of C.G. Jung to the Guild of Pastoral Psychology, a talk based on my book Jung The Mystic.

June already. The year’s half gone. Funny thing, time.

A New Book – And Sex!

My new book, Dreaming Ahead of Time, about my experiences with precognitive dreams, synchronicity and coincidence, will be published by Floris Books this January. In it I look at some of the dreams I have been recording over the last forty years, in which bits and pieces of the future have turned up. How does this happen? Beats me, but I am as convinced that it does as I am about anything else. In the book I look at some of the ideas about precognitive dreams of earlier explorers, J. W. Dunne, J. B. Priestley, T. C. Lethbridge, and also at Ouspensky’s ideas of a “three dimensional time,” Jung’s synchronicity, some very remarkable coincidences, and Colin Wilson’s notion of Faculty X, which allows us to travel to “other times and places.” I have a premonition you will enjoy it

Here are some thoughts about sex that I’ve had to cut from a book I am working on. They seemed too interesting to leave in my files.

Sex and Imagination

By

Gary Lachman

In a book I’ve been working on recently, sex has turned up quite a bit. Here I’d like to spell out in some detail ideas and intuitions about it that, at least where the male of the species is considered, strike me as being of fundamental importance. This should not be surprising. Nietzsche once remarked that “The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reaches up into the topmost summit of his spirit.” What I hope to briefly explain here is exactly how that can be the case.

My analysis is based on the “phenomenology of the sexual impulse” carried out by the existential philosopher and novelist Colin Wilson. For readers not familiar with the term, phenomenology simply means a close observation and descriptive account of experience, of, that is, phenomena, whether they appear to our senses or to our mind. The tree that we see in the garden is a phenomenon; so is the one we see in our mind. Phenomenology is interested in how each of them “appear” to consciousness. There is, of course, a whole philosophical school based on the work of Edmund Husserl, the founding father of phenomenology, with much lively debate about its aims and premises, but that needn’t concern us here. Fundamentally phenomenology is about observing and understanding our inner states. Put in the simplest terms, it is about paying attention to what is going on in your head. It is essentially a method of grasping the “structures” or processes making up our conscious experience, of becoming aware of the interior gestures, we could say, that allow for that experience to take place.

An example would be biting into an apple and enjoying the taste: that’s the experience. A phenomenological analysis of the experience would seek to grasp how it is that you enjoy it, what mental “acts” are involved in the enjoyment. The enjoyment is not in the apple, or at least not solely in it, because there are times when, for whatever reason, we don’t enjoy apples. So where is it? Listening to music is another example. We are carried away by Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. Then we decide to listen again and try to grasp how Mozart achieves his effect with such surety and simplicity, and not in musical terms, but in those of our own inner structure. This may spoil our enjoyment – it often doesn’t bear thinking about, hence the unpopularity of that pursuit – but we can come to understand it, and what mental acts we perform that enable us to enjoy it, acts of which we are usually unaware, that is, of which we are unconscious.

It may seem that our enjoyment of the music requires no acts at all: it simply happens. Husserl says no. At a level below your enjoyment, making it possible, your consciousness is reaching out to meet the music, as it were. If we are distracted, or bored, or something else “takes our mind away,” as we say, we no longer hear the music, although the CD may still be playing. The soundwaves may be hitting our ears, but the signal isn’t getting through. Our attention is elsewhere. The opposite experience happens when a piece of music we have heard countless times and that we think we know very well indeed suddenly sounds new and fresh, and we are surprised at the enjoyment we are receiving from it. How does this happen?

Husserl’s answer, and the basic premise of phenomenology, founded on empirical observation, is that our perception, our consciousness is intentional, although we are not immediately aware of this.[1] To put it simply, our consciousness does not merely reflect a world that is “already  there,” as a mirror reflects what happens to be in front of it. Consciousness reaches out and “grabs” the world, as our hands do the apple we have just bitten, and indeed, as our teeth do the apple as we bite it. It “intends” it. Its relationship to the world, to experience, isn’t passive, but active. I could extend this metaphor and say that we “digest” experience just as much as we do the apple. And just as we can have a weak or strong “grasp” on our experience, we can digest it well or badly too.

I say  “consciousness intends,” but what I really mean is that we do, my consciousness and your consciousness, but at a level below our surface awareness. That is why I think that when I bite into an apple and enjoy it, it “just happens.” It doesn’t. As Wilson writes, “there is a will to perceive as well as perceptions.” Most of the time we are unaware of this will; our acts of intentionality occur below our conscious awareness. We are usually only aware of our perceptions, not the will behind them. But there is one intentional act that we can become aware of, and it occurs in a heightened state of consciousness, one more intense than our usual passive state. This is the sexual impulse.

In a series of books written over several decades, Wilson developed what we can call a kind of “sexistentialism,” a phenomenological investigation of exactly what is behind the sexual impulse; what, that is, it “intends,” its aim.[2] Exactly what that aim is, was the question Wilson posed himself. Or, as he put it, he wanted to “be able to express the meaning-content of the sexual orgasm in words.”

When it comes to the orgasm, most men are satisfied with groans; and to them the answer to the question of what the sexual impulse aims at would be glaringly obvious, as obvious as a hungry man’s aim in having a meal before him. Wilson wanted to articulate the intentional structure of the sexual orgasm, and in doing so, he soon saw that the relation of the male sexual impulse to its object is almost nothing like that of a hungry man to a steak. What makes for a satisfactory sexual experience is far more subtle than what makes for a satisfying meal, although both can be enhanced with a bit of spice. Wilson’s conclusion was that, far from being driven by an insatiable libido, as Freud would have it, sex in human beings – male and female – has more to do with achieving states of intensified consciousness than with satisfying any animal appetite. That is, it has to do with our evolutionary drive, our inherent urge to grow. And that intensified consciousness, that growth,  is rooted in the imagination. Wilson anchors this point in the very observable fact that if we are hungry, an imaginary meal will not satisfy our appetite, nor will an imaginary drink satisfy our thirst. But an imaginary sex partner can satisfy our “sexual appetite” as much as – and often better than – a “real” partner can. This is why more than one writer on sex has remarked that masturbation can be a more gratifying means of sexual satisfaction than “real” sex.

For most of us, sex is the closest we get to anything like a mystical experience – if, of course, we are lucky: it is not absolutely reliable and there are no guarantees. But when it does work – and what we are looking at here is precisely why it does, when it does – it is an experience of tremendous power, beyond anything we experience in everyday life, what Nietzsche called “the Dionysian,” referring to the ancient Greek god of drunkenness, ecstasy, and abandon. Some of us are so impressed with this power that we spend our lives seeking it out, or at least seeking out the experience that enabled us to feel it. We call these men Don Juans or Casanovas. There are female equivalents, although the urge behind nymphomania is not the same as that behind the seduction addict. And of course, there is a whole body of literature relating to the spiritual and mystical aspects of sex, from Tantra to various other kinds of spiritualised sexuality. As Wilson writes, “The ‘origin of the sexual impulse’ is not the ‘libido’, “it is an intentionality that is not confined to sex alone, but that also projects the ‘meaning’ of man’s aesthetic and religious activities.”[3] This is why Wilson argues that the same “intentional act” that transforms a two dimensional image in a magazine into an object of intense sexual excitement – i.e. a centrefold – so that it can elicit the same physiological response as the “real thing,” is the same intentional act that allows us to enjoy Van Gogh’s Starry Night or to see the flower in the garden as beautiful.

Like sex, art and religion are other means of intensifying consciousness. What all three have in common is that they can temporarily lift us out of our everyday, ordinary consciousness, and make us aware of wider horizons of meaning and of deeper areas of our being, that are ordinarily obscured. Religion and art have always been associated with man’s higher nature, his values and ideals, with, we can say, his evolution into something more than an animal. Sex has rarely, if ever, shared this status, at least in the west.[4] In fact, it has more often been vilified as a regrettable remnant of our animal past, although in fact, human sexuality is as unlike that of animals as it could get; we do them and ourselves a disservice when we speak of “beastly lusts.”

Why?

Because as mentioned, sex in human beings has more to do with the imagination, with what is going on in the mind than in what is taking place in the genitals. Many of us are all too familiar with the fact that it is invariably the case that if the mind isn’t involved – if we aren’t “into it” – then it is easy for the genitals not to be too. As far as we can tell, there is little going on in the minds of animals as they mate; often enough the operation is over too quickly for them to have had any thoughts about it, were they were capable of having them. This is why the Russian religious existentialist philosopher Nicolai Berdyaev could say that “It is quite possible to say that man is a sexual being, but we cannot say that man is a food-digesting being.”[5]

Clearly, sex has to do with organs – penises and vaginas – in the same way that digestion does, but it isn’t limited to them as digestion is limited to our stomachs; it reaches beyond them to permeate our entire life. I love food as much as the next man – indeed, Bernard Shaw said there was no greater love -but I am unaware of any great works of art based on digestion; there is, I believe, no Romeo and Juliet, no Carmen or Tristan and Isolde inspired by an appetizing dinner. And we rarely have to be “into it,” in order to enjoy our meal; we simply have to have an appetite. Indeed we often read, watch television, or carry on a conversation while eating, in a way that we couldn’t while engaged in sex. And if our sex partner were so involved in some additional activity as these, it would, more than likely, put us off. With sex, there is a need to focus our consciousness in order to get its full benefits in the same way that an artist needs to focus his consciousness on his work and that we need to focus ours on his finished product when we stand before it in a gallery.

Because of this, Wilson argues that it is a mistake to see sex as a “low” or “base” drive, as Freud did, or as an annoying but unavoidable necessity for perpetuating the species, as the church does. The truth is that the drive behind sex is exactly the same as that behind the highest forms of human creativity. That is, it is a drive for greater consciousness.

How did Wilson arrive at this conclusion? From a study of sexual perversions – or I should say from becoming aware of the difficulty in determining what sexual behaviour counted as a perversion. This was – is- difficult because we don’t have a clear idea of exactly what constitutes “non-perverted sex.” Which is another way of saying that we don’t have a clear idea of what “normal sex” is, although we may think we do. For nature’s purposes, sex means offspring; that is, its aim is procreation, and for the most part, animals do not engage in many perversions about it. Clearly, humans mate in order to have children, but they do not mate only for that reason, and I think it is safe to say that most of the sex we engage in isn’t concerned with that at all; indeed we go out of our way to ensure that no progeny will result from our revels.[6] The Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev wrote a book, The Meaning of Love (1892), that rejected the utilitarian or Darwinian views of sex as a means of improving the race through selective breeding, and argued instead for its transformative power for the individuals concerned. Wilson agrees. The question he asked himself was “What part does sex play in man’s total being?,” to which we’ve seen replies from Nietzsche and Berdyaev.[7] But this only raises the question of what we mean by “man’s total being?” Wilson concluded that “the problems of sex and the problem of teleology (man’s ultimate purpose) are bound together, and neither can be understood in isolation.”[8]

But if offspring – bigger and better ones – aren’t the aim, or at least not the central one, of the sexual impulse, then what is? Wilson argues that the notion of “sexual fulfilment” is linked to what we perceive as the limits of “human nature,” limits that the sexual orgasm undeniably exceeds – hence its popularity. Its power suggests “an intuition of some deeper, more ‘god-like’ state of satisfaction for the individual.”[9] If this is the case then, as Wilson writes, “A satisfactory notion of ‘ultimate sexual satisfaction must be bound up with some larger mystical vision about the purpose of human existence.”[10]

The notion of some “ultimate sexual satisfaction” leads us into the realm of perversion because it is in quest of such satisfaction that perversions arise. If one was satisfied with the usual roll in the hay, they would not appeal. What do sexual perversions actually do? They act as a spice, making the ordinary, normal act more interesting, just as cayenne pepper puts a kick into your casserole. We know how a spice works on food. How does it work with sex? What exactly is the spice that is added?

For Wilson, it is “the forbidden.” “The major component of the sexual urge is the sense of sin – or, to express this more moderately, the sense of invading another’s privacy, of escaping one’s own separateness.” “The idea of the forbidden is essential in sex; without the sense of the violation of an alien being, sexual excitement would be weakened, or perhaps completely dissipated.” “Sex can never, on any level, be ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’. It always depends on the violation of taboos – or, as Baudelaire would have said, on the sense of sin.”[11] And as Wilson points out, “the forbidden” is an idea and needs to be grasped by the mind, by, that is, the imagination. You need to know you are breaking the rules in order to get the kick out of breaking them.

Yet, in our time, this requires a certain amount of self-deception. Why is it that now, in the twenty-first century, when we all know sex is just a normal part of life and that there is really nothing “wicked” about it, we nevertheless still talk of being “naughty” and having a “dirty weekend,” and of acting out some of our kinky “secret desires?” Escort services cater to this frisson of “transgression,” offering a variety of fantasies in which the client can indulge in a spectrum of “forbidden” activities from fairly standard perversions like sodomy and oral sex, which are by now more or less mainstream, to sadism, masochism, and more acquired tastes such as urophagia (drinking urine) and coprophagia (eating faeces), to any number of role-playing sex games involving nuns, schoolgirls, even aliens. The fetishism that drives these forbidden acts is itself proof that the main element in sexual satisfaction is the imagination, for what else bestows the seemingly magical power of evoking considerable sexual excitement on ordinarily non-sexual items such as a raincoat, an umbrella, or an apron, to name just a few? And I should point out that the same intentional act that animates these otherwise ordinary items and transforms them into objects of sexual excitement is the same intentional act that makes you “into” the sex you are having with your partner. In this sense, even a real partner is a fetish – and those who understand this remark have understood the point I am trying to make.

Yet, as Wilson points out, these spices soon lose their savour, or rather, we soon grow used to them and require something a little more spicy to get the same kick. Readers of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom are soon weary of the spices he provides, heaping them up on each page, and which fairly soon have very little to do with sex and more to do with providing any kind of shock possible. And what exactly is the kick? It is a sudden vivid awareness of the reality we have let slip from our mental grasp, which in this context is the sexual act. (And it is the same reality that we catch glimpses of in aesthetic, mystical, and ‘peak’ experiences.) That is, it is increased, intensified consciousness. This is why some couples install mirrors in their bedroom, so that they can see themselves in the act. (These days perhaps they take selfies…) The spices – or perversions – serve as “alarm clocks,” to take a metaphor from Gurdjieff, that “wake us up,” reviving our flagging consciousness so that, if only for a brief moment or two, we feel that “intuition of some deeper, more ‘god-like’ state of satisfaction” in the throes of the orgasm. The sense of the forbidden, the prospect of something unknown and new tightens the mind, unifies our being and gives us a taste of what human consciousness should be like, but which we feel now only rarely, if at all. It is this unity of being that is the object of the sexual impulse. And as Wilson has pointed out in his many studies of the psychology of murder, some individuals so lack it that it is only in the most brutal acts of violence that they can feel some sense of it.

It is that tightening, that focus, that concentration, that is the source of the ‘god-like’ state of satisfaction – not the spice, whatever it may be. But the devotees of perversions – those with a jaded palate in need of heavily spiced food – do not grasp this, and rather than discipline themselves to achieve this focus through their own efforts, believe their “ultimate sexual satisfaction” will come through ratcheting up their intake of spices yet one more notch, oblivious to the law of diminishing returns inherent in the procedure. For just as a drug addict needs stronger and stronger doses of his poison in order to feel any effect, the sexually perverted – in the sense we are speaking of perversions – need greater and greater stimulants to “get it up.”

Yet achieving that focus through one’s own efforts, and not being reliant on the stimulus of the “forbidden,” would not only make sex more exciting, that is more real, but everything else too.


[1] The interested reader may wish to consult Herbert Spiegelberg’s classic The Phenomenological Movement (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976). To get an idea of Wilson’s approach to phenomenology see Colin Wilson Introduction to the New Existentialism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1967)

[2] See Origins of the Sexual Impulse (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963), Order of Assassins: The Psychology of Murder (London: Rupert-Hart-Davis, 1972),  and The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders (London: Grafton, 1988). Wilson has also used the novel as a means of exploring his ideas about sexuality: Ritual in the Dark (Kansas City, MO: Valancourt Books, 2020); Man Without a Shadow (Kansas City, MO: Valancourt Books, 2013; and The God of the Labyrinth (Kansas City, MO: Valancourt Books, 2013). For a summary of Wilson’s ideas about sex, see my Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson (New York: Tarcher Perigee, 2016) pp. 105-08.

[3] Colin Wilson Origins of the Sexual Impulse (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963) p. 239.

[4] In the east it is a different matter, as the Christian missionaries who encountered religious sculptures depicting explicit sexual acts on Hindu temples discovered.

[5] Nicolai Berdyaev The Meaning of the Creative Act (New York: Collier’s, 1962) p. 168.

[6] From the procreation point of view, one could argue that any number of perversions would be acceptable and ‘normalised’ if in the end, sperm entered the womb and fertilised an egg. It would also seem to legitimise rape.

[7] Wilson 1963 p. 15.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. p. 96.

[10] Ibid. P. 98.

[11] Ibid. pp. 147, 155, 247.

Recent talks, and a forgotten teacher

Here are some links to some talks I’ve given in recent months.

A Secret History of Consciousness, a three part series of lectures for the Theosophical Society, based on my book A Secret History of Conscious

In Part One: The Search for Cosmic Consciousness, I look at some contemporary scientific views about consciousness, and contrast these with the experiences of R.M. Bucke, William James, P.D. Ouspensky and others with what they called “cosmic consciousness.” How cosmic was it? Find out.

In Part Two: Esoteric Evolution, I trace a counter-tradition of evolutionary thought, beginning with Madame Blavatsky’s critique of Darwin, and leading to Rudolf Steiner’s strange union of theosophical cosmology and Goethean epistemology.

In Part Three The Presence of Origin, I give an overview of the life and work of the German-Swiss philosopher Jean Gebser, whose ideas about the “structures of consciousness” offer important insights into our contemporary post-everything world.

Here’s a video of a symposium on the Swedish mystic and artist Hilma Af Klint that I contributed to some years ago at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, 2013.

A cheery conversation about death.

A talk about Owen Barfield.

The “forgotten teacher” mentioned above is Maurice Nicoll, who taught the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky Work in England for many years in the first half of the last century. Nicoll started out as the leading British disciple of Jung, but after meeting Ouspensky in late 1921, he switched his allegiance to the Fourth Way. Nicoll spent a year at Gurdjieff’s Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in France, and on his return to London continued his studies under Ouspensky. In 1931, he was deputised to teach the Work himself, which he did until his death in 1953. He is most known for his exhaustive Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and for his books The New Man, The Mark, – which deal with an “esoteric” reading of the Gospels – and Living Time, which marked him as, in J.B. Priestley’s words, a “time-haunted man.” He was also the author of the first book on Jung’s psychology written in English, Dream Psychology. Nicoll was also a deep reader of the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, and those familiar with Swedenborg’s, and Jung’s, ideas, will be aware of their presence in the later volumes of Nicoll’s Commentaries.

I have been asked to write a book about Nicoll, a sympathetic but critical study to complement the portraits of him left by some of his followers. A Go Fund Me page has been set up, asking support for this project. Readers of this blog know that I’ve written books about Jung, Ouspensky, and Swedenborg, and that Gurdjieff often turns up in my other books. I’ve written an article about Nicoll, published in Quest magazine a few years back, that should explain why he is important. The fact that he had Jung, Gurdjieff, and Ouspensky for teachers is enough to make him unique among modern seekers of wisdom. But that he introduced Jungian and Swedenborgian ideas into a Fourth Way teaching makes him an unusual instructor in that tradition. Nicoll was also keenly interested in the latest developments in science, in the work of Erwin Schrodinger, and the early findings in split-brain psychology, which was just beginning to get started toward the end of Nicoll’s life. Gurdjieff had entrusted Nicoll with the task of bringing the science of the west and the wisdom of the east into some creative union and in his last days he began to do just that.

Nicoll has been served well by his earlier biographers, Beryl Pogson and Sam Copley, but they were students and understandably biased toward their teacher. A recent discovery of a 1000+ page set of Nicoll’s diaries, covering crucial times in his life, also makes a new, non-partisan study of his life and work timely. Among other things, Nicoll’s diaries show a man struggling to find some way of life, some discipline, that could help him to unify and harmonise what for him were two mutually powerful but often antithetical drives, toward the spirit and toward the senses, toward the inner life of the soul, and the outer one of the body. A short video of an interview with me about Nicoll and why he deserves a new look can be found at the Go Fund Me page.

A Season of Consciousness

Here’s a round up of some upcoming talks for spring and summer. One hopes that sometime soon they can take place in real time, but until then, we must zoom – which, of course, doesn’t mean that I will lecture at a breakneck speed…

On 24 April I will be speaking about Owen Barfield, consciousness and language, for the Santa Cruz branch of the Anthroposophical Society. Barfield was the great friend of C.S. Lewis, one of the Inklings – along with Lewis and Tolkien – and a follower of Rudolf Steiner. But he was also a brilliant thinker in his own right, and I will be speaking about how in the history of language, Barfield discerned an evolution of consciousness. If you are interested in getting some background to the talk, I write about Barfield in A Secret History of Consciousness and Lost Knowledge of the Imagination

Starting 13 June, and continuing on 27 June and 11 July, I will be giving a three-part series of talks for the Theosophical Society in London based on my book A Secret History of Consciousness.

Part 1, The Search for Cosmic Consciousness, looks at the limits of the “nothing but” school of consciousness studies, and at the work of R.M. Bucke, William James, P.D. Ouspensky and others in their quest to expand the field of human consciousness so that it can encompass the cosmos.

Part 2, Esoteric Evolution, looks at the influence of Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophy on Rudolf Steiner, and how, by grafting elements from German Idealism and the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great poet and scientist, onto Blavatsky’s Theosophy, Steiner developed a suggestive philosophy of consciousness.

Part 3, The Presence or Origin, looks at the work of Jean Gebser, a little know philosopher and spiritual thinker whose ideas about the “structures of consciousness” and the “breakdown” of our current “mental-rational” structure can help shed some light on our turbulent times.

On 19 June, I will be giving a two hour presentation on “Beyond the Robot: Consciousness and Existentialism,” based on my book, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, for the Pari Center, in Tuscany, Italy. (And yes, I would very much have liked this one to have been in real time…) Some of my readers will know that Wilson was one of the most important and insightful philosophers of consciousness of the past two centuries. My talk will focus on his attempt to create a “new existentialism,” a positive one driven by optimism and meaning, to replace the grim, stoical vision of Heidegger, Sartre and Camus, which ended in a cul-de-sac. My presentation is part of a series, “What is Consciousness,” which includes presentations by Iain McGilchrist, Bernardo Kastrup, Roshi Richard Baker – whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, at the end of 2019, just on the cusp of Coronamania – and others.

On 26 June I will be the keynote speaker at the Annual Convention of the Swedenborg Church of North America. I will be speaking about my new book, Introducing Swedenborg: Correspondences, an essay on the influence Swedenborg’s ideas about “correspondences” between the natural and spiritual worlds had on modern culture. I’m not sure if this is open to the public. If it is, I will post the details forthwith.

On 18 July, my talk for the Last Tuesday Society, “A Dark Muse: Writers and the Occult,” based on my book The Dedalus Book of the Occult: A Dark Muse (published in the US as A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult), will look at how ideas about the occult and esoteric have influenced some of the greatest writers and poets of the past few centuries. August Strindberg, Fernando Pessoa, Arthur Rimbaud, J. K. Huysmans are some the recipients of this seductive muse’s inspiration.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the letting up of locking down, but remember to stay safe and well.

Esoteric Evolution, Trickle Down Metaphysics, the Silver Age, and Colin Wilson needs your help.

Here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2 of my three part online lecture series on Esotericism and the Evolution of Consciousness, given to the Theosophical Society in London, and based on The Secret Teachers of the Western World. Part 3 will be up sometime later this month or early next.

Here’s a link to my talk for the Explorers Club on “Trickle Down Metaphysics and the Goldilocks Theory of History.” The essay on which the talk is based is available here, on this site, or at academia.edu

Here’s another link, to a talk about the Silver Age I gave to a class in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. I was delighted that they were interested enough in my book The Return of Holy Russia to ask me to speak. The students were very engaged and their questions showed it.

The fund drive to finance the making of Dreaming to Some Purpose: The Life and Time of Colin Wilson, a much needed documentary about Wilson’s life and ideas, is still on and needs your help. We have less than a month left and so far have raised only a fraction of what we need. If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Wilson’s books or any of mine, please contribute what you can and pass the link on to others who might also do so. It would be a true shame for this not to happen. I don’t have to tell you that Wilson is one of the most important thinkers about consciousness in recent times and his ideas and insights need to be saved for posterity. I’ve done my bit: I’ve written a book about him. Now you can do yours.

One last item: a new recording by my son, the maestro. He too is a struggling artist. It runs in the family.

Dreaming to Some Purpose: The Live and Times of Colin Wilson

A crowdfunding page aiming to help finance the making of new Colin Wilson documentary has gone live, and I’m writing to pass this information on to all the Wilsonsians out there who know there is a need for a good documentary about the original Outsider. Colin has appeared in other videos, but none so far has been adequate or able to convey the range, depth, and complexity of his work, all the way from existentialism, the psychology of crime, to the paranormal and higher states of consciousness. This project aims to do just that.

There’s a variety of Wilsoniana offered as rewards for donors, ranging from some of Colin’s own possessions – his Swiss Army knife among them – signed copies of his books – and mine too (Beyond the Robot) and other perks. Please check out the promotional video and the other material at the site. Here’s the link: Dreaming to Some Purpose: The Life and Times of Colin Wilson.

In other news, the release date for my book on precognitive dreams and synchronicities, Time and the Dreaming Mind , has been pushed back to 2022. Blame coronomania. In the meantime, along with the talks I have lined up – the dates are given in the previous post – I have an article in the Sept-Oct issue of New Dawn #182 about how the Covid-19 lockdown in London helped me to understand some of CW’s basic ideas. In “Getting Beyond the Robot” I show how Colin’s notion of “the paradoxical nature of freedom” is at the heart of our moments of “wakening.”

I trust you are all well and keeping safe.

Autumn Talks 2020

I’ll be giving several talks this October and November. Here are the details.

On 22 October I’ll be speaking about the Silver Age to students in the Slavic and Eurasian Studies department of the University of Texas at Austin. I write about the Silver Age, a remarkably creative time in Russian history that stretched from around 1890 to 1917 and the Bolshevik Revolution, in my book The Return of Holy Russia. It was a time of great interest in mysticism, magic, and the spiritual, with a brooding sense of the apocalypse, not unlike our own… I am not sure if the talk will be open to the public or if it will be available online. Details to follow.

On 25 October, starting at 6:00 PM London time, I’ll be giving the first of a series of talks for the Theosophical Society in England about “Esotericism and the Evolution of Consciousness,” based on my book The Secret Teachers of the Western World . This talk will look at how an earlier, “participatory” form of consciousness predated our more “alienated” modern minds, and how, although obscured by our more rational consciousness, it remained as the source of another “way of knowing.”

Part 2 in this series will be given on 8 November (6:00 pm UK time). “Esoteric Renaissance and Underworld” will look at how, following the rise of Christianity, the Hermetic tradition was kept alive in the Arab world and later transmitted to the west, where it influenced the Renaissance and other movements until it was forced to go “underground” by the rise of modern science.

In Part 3, “Toward the Integral Mind,” given on 22 November (6:00 pm UK time), I will look at how for the past few centuries we have been moving toward a possible completion of our “partial minds,” and how from the “Golden Age” of modern esotericism, through to the “occult revival” of the 1960s and today’s post-everything world, we have been involved in an important process in the evolution of consciousness.

On 26 October, starting at 7:00 PM London time, as a part of London Month of the Dead, I will be raising the dead, literally, giving a talk on the Russian Cosmist Nikolai Fedorov, who saw as the “common task” of humanity, the actual resurrection of the dead. Fedorov impressed Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and his ideas later led to the foundation of the Soviet space program. You can find out more about him and the other Cosmists in The Return of Holy Russia.

On Wednesday, 11 November, starting at 6:00 PM UK time, I’ll be talking about “Trickle Down Metaphysics and the Goldilocks Theory of History” for the Explorers Club. “Trickle Down Metaphysics” is how I describe the process by which the philosopher Nietzsche’s prediction of a coming age of nihilism in the late 1880s, “trickled down” from the metaphysical heights of his mountain top, via postmodernism and deconstructionism, to the lowlands of the “post truth” and “alternative facts” that fill our TV sets and Twitter feeds. The Goldilocks Theory of History is about getting our crises “just right,” and I don’t have to tell you we have many to choose from. “Trickle Down Metaphysics: From Nietzsche to Trump” can be found in my previous post and at academia.edu. Goldilocks turns up in a few places in my books.

Beyond the Robot Part 2, H. P. Lovecraft, Precognition, and Holy Russia.

I’ll be giving the second part of my talk on Colin Wilson online on 30 August from 7:00 – 9:00 pm UK time. Here’s the link to register. The talk is based on my book Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson. I gave the first part back in February, just before coronamania hit town. You can find that here. In the first talk, I focused on Wilson’s first book, The Outsider, and his roots in existentialism. Part 2 will follow on from that to Wilson’s ‘comeback’ book, The Occult which established him as one of the leading thinkers in the burgeoning consciousness and paranormal world of the 1970s. I will look at The Occult and the other books in Wilson’s “Occult trilogy,” Mysteries and Beyond the Occult.

In other news, my article “The Horror at Clinton Street: H. P. Lovecraft in Brooklyn,” is in the September 2020 issue of Fortean Times, #396, which should be available at a Temple to Dagon near you. I came to Lovecraft after cutting my Weird Tales teeth on Robert E. Howard’s testosterone injected tales of Conan the Barbarian, in the Lancer paperback editions of the mid 1960s, with their fantastic Frank Frazetta covers, full of swords, sorcery, rippling muscle and buxom wenches. Lovecraft was an eccentric, neurotic man of genius who transmuted his loathing of the modern world into tales of cosmic horror that at their best, produce a sense of awe. Sadly, his time in Brooklyn in the early 1920s, was not a picnic, and his dislike of people of colour or of less than colonial American descent, reached a paroxysm that, in a lesser individual, could have erupted into violence. In Lovecraft’s case, it produced one of his lesser tales, which nevertheless, put the Red Hook area of Brooklyn firmly on the Lovecraftian map…

 

New Dawn magazine, which hails from down under – Melbourne, Australia, to be exact – has been reprinting some of my older articles, as well as some new ones. In recent months I contributed articles on H. G. Wells and the Open Conspiracy(May-June 2020 #180) and the little read – at least in the English speaking world – German writer Ernst Junger (Special Issue Vol. 14 #3). In their Special Issue Vol. 13 # 6, I contributed my essay “Mystical Experience and the Evolution of Consciousness, and in the July-August 2020 issue has an early article about precognitive dreams and synchronicity, “Destiny Calling.” This was originally published back in 1997 in Quest magazine and has not been available until now. I mention in a note that it can serve as an introduction to my next book, Time and the Dreaming Mind, which will be published by Floris Books sometime in 2021, and which deals at greater length with the kinds of experiences I write about in the article. In the current Special Issue. Vol 14 #4, you can find my article on the Hermetic Revolution of the Renaissance, which originally appeared in Gnosis magazine in 1996, and laid the groundwork for my book The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus.

I’ve been doing quite a few interviews for The Return Of Holy Russia. Here are links to some that have appeared since my last post.

Here I speak with Mark Jeftovic at Spokentome about A Secret History of Consciousnessand The Caretakers of the Cosmos, two of my books that he has released in spoken word editions. If I remember correctly, we cover a lot of ground…

Here I chat with Piers Kaniuka of Resistance Recoveryabout my work in general.

This time it’s about T.C. Lethbridge, pendulums and the counter culture at the Bureau of Lost Culture.

At Mind Matters it’s all things a la Russe.

Here I talk about the “Russian soul” with a real Russian

It’s The Caretakers of the Cosmos at Zeitgeist.

And at Legalize Freedom it’s Holy Russia again.

A Midsummer Roundup

Here are some interviews and reviews from recent months.

I was glad to see in a review of Dark Star Rising that I avoid “all that cheap and vapid capitalising on personal celebrity status, invariably zeroing in on low hanging fruit of negligible import, which is all too common in the field of popular entertainment and image marketing.” It’s true, you know.

Here’s a conversation I had with Christina Harrington of Treadwell’s Bookshop here in London about my new book The Return of Holy Russia.

At Thoth Hermes.com I have officially been declared a “living philosopher,” no mean feat, especially if you are trying to make a living out of philosophy.

Here’s another conversation a la Russe, with Greg Carlwood at The Higherside Chats.

Here’s a chat with Luke Dodson who, among other things, is the great grandson of J.B. Priestely, whom I’ve been writing about recently in my current work in progress, a book about precognitive dreams. Priestley was a “time-haunted man,” as evidenced by his still very readable and revelatory book Man and Time.

Here’s a review of The Return of Holy Russia by Stephen Greenleaf.

And if you are an absolute glutton for all things Russian, here’s another conversation about Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky,and what Tsar Vladimir is up to these days.

Spasibo!