Tag: Jean Gebser

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.

Jeffrey J. Kripal asks me all about our Secret Teachers

I recently had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Jeffrey J. Kripal about my new book The Secret Teachers of the Western World for the Reality Sandwich website. For those of you who don’t know, Jeffrey is one of the most exciting and thought provoking academic thinkers working in the ‘alternative’ milieu today; among his many books are Mutants and MysticsAuthors of the Impossible and most recently, The Super Natural, co-written with Whitley Strieber. I am flattered and honored that Jeff took the time to read and think about my book and to ask the kinds of questions writers like to answer. Here’s a link to the interview.

An Interview for the Jean Gebser Society

Here’s a link to a recent interview I did with Aaron Cheak for the Jean Gebser Society. Gebser is one of the most important philosophers of the last century, and as you most likely know, I write about him in several of my books: A Secret History of ConsciousnessThe Quest for Hermes TrismegistusRevolutionaries of the Soul and my most recent book, The Secret Teachers of the Western World. The theme of the interview is the link between western philosophy and esotericism, but as you’ll see we cover a lot of ground, from my first introduction to these ideas to my latest approach to them. Aaron Cheak has done some very interesting work on Gebser, digging into his biography and associations with people like the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, and he is currently translating more of Gebser’s work into English. I will certainly be happy to see this, as Gebser is so far under-translated and we can use as much of him as we can get.

Secret Teachers Interview

Here’s a link to an interview I did recently with Chris Flisher at his Turning the Wheel website. We discuss some of the basic ideas of my new book, The Secret Teachers of the Western World, how the history of western consciousness has been informed by an often fierce rivalry between the two sides of the brain and what this has meant for the western esoteric tradition. Chris brings in the cosmic aspect, but I try to keep the conversation focussed on what is going on inside our heads and what this might mean for our future.

And if anyone feels inspired to disagree with the first review of the book on amazon, I won’t stop you. Evidently the reader was expecting something different.

And not to forget: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year