Tag: mysticism

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.

Holy Russia, Aeon Bytes, and Ends of Days

Here’s short notice of two live interviews about my new book The Return of Holy Russia.

Tonight, 15 May, at 9:00 PM UK time, I’ll be speaking with Michael Deacon about the book on his You Tube program End of Days

And tomorrow, 16 May, at 1:00 PM Central time, I’ll be speaking with Miguel Connor at Aeon Bytes about the book too.

Also, here’s a link to an interview I did about the book with Jeffrey Mishlove at the New Thinking Allowed.

Hoping you all are safe and well in these unusual times.

 

 

The Year Ahead: 2020 in View

Work, holidays, and other unavoidable hurdles in life – and there have been some tough ones – have kept me from keeping up this blog. For one thing, 2019 had me travelling around the globe, from Bogota to Sydney and Melbourne, New York to California’s Big Sur coast – where I spent at week at a fantastic symposium at the Esalen Institute – with pit stops in Montreal, Munich, Berlin, Rome, Turin, Milan and even China along the way. Whew indeed. Now I’m stationary, at least for the moment, and able to look at what lies ahead. Some travel, but also some appearances closer to home.

On 20 February I’ll be at the Kensington Central Library again, this time talking about my book Jung The Mystic. Yes, I know, for some it should be Jung The Mistake, but not for me. As I grown older and imperceptibly wiser – hmm – I see that the sage of Kunsnacht has more and more to say to me. And to you.

On 29 February I’ll be talking about my book Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson at the Theosophical Society in England headquarters in London. To those who don’t know, Colin was and remains a central influence on my work. I’m happy to have a chance to speak about his ideas and the importance they hold for us today. He was and remains well ahead of his time. And ours.

On 7 March I’ll be speaking about Aleister Crowley, that old beast, at the Pagan Phoenix Conference in Penstowe. From what I gather from the flyer, it sounds like it should be a jolly good time.

On 16 March I’ll be talking about my book Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump for the Science and Medical Network in Hampstead, London. You may have had your fill of Trump – I’d be surprised if you hadn’t – but if you want to get an idea about occultism in politics today and the effects of what I call “trickle down metaphysics,” this is the place to be.

On 18 April I’m scheduled to be interviewed by Kasper Obstrup at the Avisen Live 2020 Festival outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. Travel again, but only a short hop to “the continent.” Kasper is a Danish writer with a fascination with “radical culture,” which means the Beats and other denizens of the outre fringe. I suspect I will be in good company.

On July 3 I’ll be talking about “Colin Wilson’s Double Brain,” relating Wilson’s insights into split-brain psychology to recent developments in that area at the Third International Colin Wilson Conference, held in Nottingham, 3-5 July.

I’m also on the bill for the Ozora Festival, which will be held in Ozora, Hungary, outside Budapest, a psychedelic trance event held from 20-26 July. Details to follow. I’ll be re-reading Arthur Koestler’s autobiography, Arrow in the Blue, on the way.

In other news, there’s an interview with me and an excerpt from my new book, The Return of Holy Russia, in the latest edition of New Dawn magazine. Here’s the tweet.

I also have an interview in a new book about David Bowie, of all people. Masks: Bowie and Artists of Artifice explores the relationship between identity and creativity. I’m included along with John Gray, Slavoj Žižek and other fascinating, talented individuals.

Last, but surely not least, some nepotism. Here’s a link to my son, Max’s, You Tube Channel. Max is a violinist and filmmaker who has one proud ex rock ‘n roller for a dad. Please listen and subscribe.

There’s your mission. You have no choice but to accept it.

 

Colin Wilson, Henry Corbin, Kathleen Raine

You don’t get these three together that often, although in his early days, Wilson did meet Raine – he tells the story in his account of the Angry Young Men, The Angry YearsI met Wilson and Raine. I wouldn’t be surprised if Raine and Corbin met; I haven’t come across an account of them meeting, but they moved in the same circles and knew the same people. Their reason for appearing here is that I am posting links to two recent lectures. One is another of my ongoing conversations with Jeffrey Mishlove for his New Thinking Allowed series, this time about Colin Wilson. The other is the last lecture in my Lost Knowledge of the Imagination series of talks given for Jeremy Johnson’s excellent Nura Learning site. I write about Wilson in Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson and I write about Henry Corbin and Kathleen Raine in Lost Knowledge of the Imagination, so if you watch the talks and want to know more, those are the best places to start. Once again, happy new year. If enough Outsiders use their imagination, we may just be able to pull this one out of the fire.

Thinking Allowed

Recently I was interviewed by Jeffrey Mishlove for his Thinking Allowed series of podcasts. This is the first of what will most likely turn out to be several such conversations. We talked about Rudolf Steiner in this one, and yesterday Jeffrey interviewed me about my book Dark Star Rising. The next installment we have planned is a chat about Madame Blavatsky. I enjoy Jeffrey’s interviews; he clearly knows the subjects and he guarantees a good discussion by asking intelligent questions. Here’s one place in which thinking is definitely allowed.

Mozart and the Stars

Here is the text of the talk I gave for the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, in Calw, Germany earlier this month. Calw is the home town of Hermann Hesse, and Hesse readers will know that the title of this post comes from his novel SteppenwolfBecause of the Hesse connection, I geared my talk accordingly. A few slightly awkward moments occurred during the talk – which was ably translated by my excellent translator Isabel – because of the significance a glass of wine has in the story. My Rosicrucian hosts were tee-total, but humor, another factor in the novel, saw us through. The afternoon we spent the next day at the Hesse museum  in Calw made up for any misunderstandings.

I had brought a new translation of Steppenwolf  – picked up at a charity shop – in honor of my adolescent obsession with Hesse. I dutifully read it while in Calw, but I have to say I was put off by its “updating” of the language and so-called “corrections.” Changing the famous tag line “For Madmen Only,” to “For Mad People Only,” just didn’t work and smacked too much of politically correct editing. Mensch in Germany means “man” or “one”, not “male,” just as “man” in English does not mean “male,” but “one” or “human”, unless of course you are referring a particular man. (A lot of ink has been spilled and feathers ruffled over this misunderstanding.) I’m glad that the original English translation by Basil Creighton, with all its poetry and romanticism, is still available. I have a hard cover first edition of the English translation from 1929 that has served me well for the past thirty-five years or so (I got it at a second hand shop in Los Angeles in the early ’80s.)

On the way to Stuttgart Airport for my flight to London, I was treated to a special, exclusive tour of the Johanes Kepler Museum in Weil det Stadt. Kepler featured in my talk and although the museum is closed on Mondays, the curator very kindly opened up for us and gave us the royal treatment. I first read about Kepler’s fascinating if difficult  life in Arthur Koestler’s The Sleepwalkers, a brilliant and very readable history of the early years of modern astronomy. We had a further enlightening experience as we enjoyed the guided tour of Tubingen, the university town that in the late eighteenth century numbered Hegel, Holderlin, Schelling and many other important Germany philosophers and writers among its inhabitants, given by friends of my host. Tubingen was also an important center for the original Rosicrucians of the the early seventeenth century. It was out of the “Tubingen Circle” that Johann Valentin Andreae, most likely responsible for much of the Rosicrucian Manifestos, emerged. I write about this in Politics and the Occult – which, incidentally, will soon be available in audio format. (I sent off the Introduction earlier this week.)

Here’s the talk. Some of the ideas I touch on in it will be discussed in the Nura Learning course on the Lost Knowledge of the Imagination starting on November 17.

 

Regaining the Lost Knowledge of the Imagination: A Talk for the Lectorium Rosicrucianum Calw, Germany 20/10/18

This afternoon I’m going to talk about what I call “the lost knowledge of the imagination.” But before I start I should say that the phrase itself comes from the English poet and essayist Kathleen Raine. For many years Kathleen Raine guided the Temenos Academy in London, an alternative learning establishment whose aim was to keep alive what she called “the learning of the imagination.” It is still active today, running lectures and courses devoted to this learning.

“Temenos” is a Greek word meaning the “sacred space” or “gathering” before the temple, and it is an apt name for Raine’s academy. Raine, who is perhaps best known as a scholar of  William Blake and other English Romantic poets, discovered that there was a whole tradition in the west of what we can call “imaginative knowledge,” that was lost to us. This was a knowledge that was as “real” and “true” as the kind of knowledge we are more familiar with – scientific knowledge or practical knowledge – but that concerned itself with aspects of reality that our more commonplace knowledge ignored or was unaware of or, in many cases, actively rejected.

What is this other kind of knowledge and why was it rejected? In a broad, general sense we can say that where the kind of knowledge we are more familiar with deals with the outer, external world –  how to manoeuver through it and control it, the kind of knowledge that is absolutely necessary for life –  this other, imaginative knowledge is concerned with our inner world, with what we used to call the soul but which we now speak of as consciousness. It is concerned with our inner experience, with states of being, with values, meanings, insights, intuitions and the other mysterious phenomena that make up our interior landscape and help make us human.

This kind of knowledge was rejected because it is precisely these kinds of intangible things that the kind of knowledge we are more familiar with cannot deal with adequately. It can tell us what is wrong with our car engine or how to get to the moon, but if we want to know the meaning of life or why a sunset is beautiful, it is irrelevant, absolutely useless. No amount of scientific analysis of a sunset will reveal to us the mystery of its beauty, just as no amount of pragmatic advice about how to “get on” in life will tell us its meaning. For this kind of knowledge, “meaning” and “beauty” are only subjective, they exist only “inside our heads”. My car engine and the moon are outside; they are objective, “real.” What I know about them is real knowledge and true for everyone. What I find meaningful and beautiful is true only for me. According to our common ideas, that is not knowledge. At best, it’s opinion, and only as good as any other.

Although living and influential in the past, this imaginative tradition, Raine saw, had been lost or, more accurately, pushed aside and relegated to the gutter, with the rise of the modern age and the development of what we know of as science and the measurable, quantifiable knowledge associated with it. At this time, around the early seventeenth century, for something to qualify as knowledge it had to be amenable to being measured and quantified. The sort of interior experience the tradition of imaginative knowledge was concerned with could not meet this requirement. It was concerned with quality, not quantity; with meaning, not measure. The sorts of things it engaged with could not be encompassed with a slide rule or measuring tape . They could not be touched or felt or weighed or in any way perceived by the senses. Because of this they soon found themselves being regarded as non-existent, or at best understood as negligible by-products of the actual measurable – that is physical – processes that the new quantifiable knowledge believed accounted for them.

This belief in the unreality or insignificance of our inner experience – from the quantitative perspective – remains today.  It is very easy to find evidence for it. The whole push to “explain consciousness” in physical terms – as a product of neurons and electro-chemical exchanges in the brain – that has been going on for some time now, is an example. But because the new, quantitative way of knowing was so impressive and successful and seemed to put an enormous power into man’s hands, it went ahead with confidence, and either ignored the warnings about the consequences of the loss of our inner world or rejected them as nonsense.

The tradition of imaginative knowledge lost a great deal of its prestige at this time. Up until then it was not considered, as it is today, mere nonsense and superstition, but a legitimate concern of scholars and philosophers, and its fall from grace was considerable. But, as Raine saw, it did not disappear. It merely went underground, and became a kind of subterranean stream, surfacing from time to time, and informing sages and poets like Swedenborg and Blake, but also Goethe, Novalis and the German Romantics, and many other artists and poets and musicians and philosophers. By the late nineteenth century it flowered forth as the modern “occult revival,” responsible for Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. By the early twentieth century we have Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, the work of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and even psychologists such as Carl Jung drawing on elements and ideas bubbling in the underground stream of our lost tradition.

In my books The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus and The Secret Teachers of the Western World, I write about the history of this “lost tradition,” which has been lost only for the past four centuries. “Misplaced” or “hidden” may be better ways to characterize it, as something being “lost” implies that it has gone missing accidentally,  and the disappearance of this tradition of imaginative knowledge had nothing accidental about it. It was deliberately relegated to the rubbish bin of ideas, and as I show in Secret Teachers, was subject to a kind of “character assassination.”

In these books and others, I show this tradition’s roots in the ancient philosophies and beliefs of antiquity and how, with the rise of quantifiable knowledge as the only accepted form of knowledge, it fell from a position of considerable prestige into ignominious disrepute. When we recognize that figures such as Copernicus and Isaac Newton, architects of the modern age, and other A-list western intellectual stars, such as Dante and Plato, subscribed to much of the lost tradition, we can see that it is something of value and significance and that to lose such a learning is indeed a loss.

Raine herself saw the Neoplatonic tradition, with its vision of the One, the varied forms of the Anima Mundi, or Soul of the World, and the struggle of the individual soul to free itself from material bondage – its exile in the world –  and return to its source, as the guiding idea behind the symbols and metaphors that inform the Romantic lyrical tradition. What this poetry was about fundamentally was the soul, and its journey here, in an often dark world. Ultimately this vision went back to Plato. But she knew that Neoplatonism was not the sole source of the knowledge of the imagination she discovered in Coleridge, Yeats and other poets. It was one of many sources rooted in the past, such as Hermeticism, Kabbalah, Gnosticism, and also the wisdom of the East, that fed the subterranean stream of the lost tradition. The tradition of the imagination has appeared in many forms, each related to the others, but each also unique. But each also fed and drank at the same source.

All of these traditions offered a different way of knowing the world and a different way of understanding our place in it, than that of the quantifiable, measurable view. In a general sense we can say that they spoke of a world that was living, conscious, interconnected, and receptive to human entreaty. Human beings themselves were a part of this world and shared in its spiritual, vital character. We could communicate with it. We participated  in it. We could speak with the spirits of nature and commune with the gods. It was a world that we can only dimly envision now, through our imagination – or remember it from our childhood – but it was a world in which imagination was the fundamental medium linking all together.

But with the rise of the new quantitative way of knowing, all this changed. The gods and spirits were evicted from the world. In order to understand the laws of planetary motion, we had to reject the idea, expressed eloquently by Dante, that it was the angels, or love, that moved the stars. Yet, Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion which we use today to send our probes out into the further reaches of space, was himself a passionate devotee of our lost tradition.

If someone responsible for the knowledge that allows us to send interstellar probes out beyond our solar system and into the infinity of space was a student of our lost tradition, it behooves us, I believe, to try to understand why this should be so. It is also a reminder that in trying to revive or restore or renew this lost tradition, the aim is not for it to replace the kind of knowing we associate with science and the practical business of life, but to complement it. Both are absolutely necessary and it is only by embracing both that we are fully and truly human.

The true source of this tradition of imaginative knowledge, however, is the imagination itself. All gods exist and have their origin in the human soul, William Blake tells us. He goes even further. The entire world we perceive with our senses is a product of imagination – not in the sense of it being “fake” or “unreal” but in the sense that our inner world, our mind, for sake of a better word, has precedent over the outer one and is indeed responsible for it. As the essayist and philosopher of language Owen Barfield – a friend of C. S. Lewis and a brilliant expositor of the ideas of Rudolf Steiner – said, “Interior is anterior,” meaning that our inner worlds come first, before the outer world. This, of course, is the exact opposite of what modern science tells us today. For it, the outer, exterior, physical, material measureable world comes first and is, in some way they can’t explain just yet – but they are working on it – responsible for our inner ones.

I don’t accept this and I don’t believe the people in this room accept it. But that is the situation today. And it is because that is the situation today that we have what this conference is concerned with: a crisis of the ego. What I hope to do in this talk is to show that by regaining this lost knowledge of the imagination, by becoming aware of and participating in this tradition of the imagination, we may be able to overcome this crisis. With a grasp of what this knowledge of the imagination truly means, we can pass through this difficult time, this “time of troubles,” as  the historian Arnold Toynbee spoke of the crises that challenge civilization, and begin to work on the real challenge, that of taking the next step in the evolution of consciousness.

For that is what I consider our current crises to be. The environmental, social, political, economic and other planetary challenges facing us are the hurdles we have to leap, the barriers we have to surmount, in order to make the shift into the next stage in human consciousness. Or, rather, it is by making that shift that we will be able to face these challenges successfully. The two are intertwined. Toynbee saw “challenge and response” as the motor of history. If a challenge facing a civilization is too great, it fails and goes down. If it is too easy, the civilization becomes complacent and decays. But if the challenge is “just right”, then the civilization finds the will and creativity to meet it, and continues to grow. I call this the “Goldilocks theory of history,” and it is something, I think,  that we can apply to human consciousness itself. If you know the English fairy tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, you will know that out of three choices, she always finds what is “just right.”

There are no guarantees and it is up to us to pull it off. But if we don’t, I see little hope of a bright future. I don’t mean to be gloomy here, just realistic. The environmental challenges facing us are enough to suggest this, and the political ones are no help either.

But how can a tradition of imagination, however important, help deal with the kind of real, solid, hard, physical crises involving climate, wealth, social justice and so on that face us today? To answer that I will need to take a look at what I mean when I speak of imagination.

When we think of imagination we usually see it as some kind of “substitute” for reality. We think of fantasy, day-dreams, wish-fulfilment musings offering unsubstantial realizations of a life much more interesting, fascinating, exciting – in general in all ways much better than our own. We think of imagination as “make believe,” as pretence, and sigh wistfully about  “having our dreams come true,” and are usually woken up with a start and the admonition that we have let our imagination “run away with us.” We drift into a fantasy of some more satisfying way of life, then sigh and admit that it was “just our imagination.”

Or we think of imagination as a tool for being innovative, for coming up with novelties that will keep us at “the cutting edge” of our profession. It helps to bring us the latest in technology, and keeps it “state of the art” and “fresh from the drawing board.” Imagination in this sense can be applied to anything, from computers to lipstick, from automobiles to swim suits. It is responsible for fashion – or perhaps we should say that a lack of imagination is responsible for that.

Of course we also give imagination an important, essential place in the arts. This is where it is most respected. Great literature, great painting, great music are all dependent upon the powers of the imagination, as are the lower ranks in these pursuits. This is perhaps the one realm in which the quantitative way of knowing will allow its qualitative way some freedom, although of course we know that many serious people see the products of imagination in this way as little more than ways of “escaping reality.” We say that people who spend too much time reading fiction or watching films are guilty of escapism, of running away from life – although much of the fiction and the films made today seem themselves something to run away from.

But ultimately, when it gets down to business, however powerful and moving a novel, painting, symphony, or even a film may be, in the end it, like the other substitutes for reality, is “unreal.” They are fiction, even if the novel, such as War and Peace, is about “real” events, or the painting depicts an historic scene. And if it is, like music, a non-representational art, then it is in the end really nothing more than nice sounds, vibrations of air that, for some odd reason, give us a sense of joy or comfort or what have you.

The point here is that no matter how powerful or meaningful we find a work of art, in the end, for the quantitative way of knowing, that power or meaning is less real than the paper, ink, canvas, paint or vibrations of air that convey it. Paper, canvas, ink and vibrations can be measured; meaning can’t.

This prejudice toward the unreality of the imagination is a difficult thing to excise. It is emphasized in the very definition of the word, at least in English. The Oxford Dictionary calls it a “mental faculty of forming images of objects not existent.” The Cambridge Dictionary calls it “the ability to form pictures in the mind that you think exist or are true but are in fact not real or true.” Merriam-Webster calls it “the ability to imagine things that are not real.”

We get the point. There are two things I want to say about this. The first is that although “imagining” in the sense of making a mental picture of something is, of course, a great part of “imagination,” it is not the only thing that is important about it or the only “power” possessed by imagination. The way I see imagination, it is not a faculty or a power in a specific sense, in the way that, say, our eyes have the “power” of sight or our ears the “power” of hearing. It is the means by which we have any experience at all. You can have 20/20 vision and hearing like sonar, but if you lack imagination you will be blind as a bat and deaf as a log. Imagination is something so fundamental that we cannot point to one limited expression of it and say, “That’s it. That’s imagination.” It is a kind of “intuitive glue” that holds all of our experience together; without it, everything would break apart into disconnected fragments. We can’t imagine what it would be like to be without imagination, because we would need imagination in order to do so.

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead spoke of the fundamental elements of our experience as things “incapable of analysis in terms of factors more far-reaching than themselves.” These are things so basic that we can’t get under or away from them. We can’t analyse anything without already taking them for granted. Imagination, I think, is one of those things. It is so much a part of memory, self-consciousness, thought, perception, and the rest of our inner experience that it is almost impossible to pry it apart from them or any of them from each other. We can talk about these elements of our inner world as separate phenomena but we soon find that they blend into each other and that to demand an unyielding, fixed definition of “imagination” or any of these other imponderables would actually make them more obscure. We recognize what they mean tacitly, implicitly, and to throw the spotlight of analysis on them too harshly causes them to fade from our grasp. They have their own character, their own shading, contour and shape, but they run in parallel with each other.

The other thing I would say regarding a definition of imagination is that the one I do find most profitable to follow comes from Colin Wilson, a British writer and philosopher whose work has been an enormous influence on my own. He saw imagination as “the ability to grasp realities that are not immediately present.” Not, as our official definitions have it, as a means of creating “mental images” of non-existent things. But a means of grasping reality itself. I would only add to Wilson’s definition the fact that we often need imagination to truly grasp the reality that is right in front of us, staring us in the face.

Wilson knew this, and it is this kind of passivity before the outer world that our consciousness often exhibits – what he calls “robotic consciousness” – that he spent a lifetime analysing in order to overcome. But what he meant by “realities that are not immediately present,” is that we are often hypnotized into accepting whatever “reality” may be in front of us at the moment as the whole of reality, or at least of the reality available to us at the time. We are, he says, “stuck” in the present, hemmed in by our immediate experience in the same way that we would be hemmed in by four walls if we were locked in a room. Plato, in fact, knew this ages ago, when he compared human beings to prisoners chained and forced to live in a cave, and who take the  shadows they are compelled to see for “reality.”

Plato believed the pursuit of philosophy was a way of exiting the cave. He is right. It is, and the Neoplatonists whose vision informed Kathleen Raine’s Romantic poets knew it. But sometimes we can find ourselves outside the cave and in the bright daylight spontaneously. It is in such a moment that imagination in the sense of “making real” “realities that are not immediately present,” comes into play. And even here, the notion that imagination, instead of “make believe” – which is how we usually understand it – is really about “making real,” is expressed quite clearly. Anytime you “realize” something – that is, make it real to you – you use your imagination to do so. That is what “realizing” something means: making it real.

Let me give you an example of such a moment that Wilson refers to in his books and which seems rather appropriate for the setting of this conference. It comes from the novelist Hermann Hesse, from his novel Steppenwolf, and here we are in Hesse’s hometown. I’m sure you know the story. Harry Haller – who we must assume is in at least some ways Hesse himself – is a middle-aged intellectual who really has nothing to complain about. He has enough money to live on, the freedom to do what he wants, and no responsibilities of any kind. Yet, he spends his days avoiding suicide. Why? Why should his freedom, which is something he has always wanted and has struggled and sacrificed to attain, have become a burden? It makes no sense. Yet it has and in the beginning of the book we find him wandering around an unidentified city – most likely a blend of Basel and Zurich – avoiding the razor blade.

At one point he sits at a café and orders a glass of wine. Then, as he sips his good Elsasser, something happens. His despair lifts and suddenly he is transformed. “A refreshing laughter” rises in him, and from out of nowhere, he is flooded with memories: of paintings he has seen, places he has been, of experiences he has had but of which only he knows. “A thousand pictures” were stored in his brain, and now they have come back to him, not as dim, faint recollections, but as living, vital realities. These things have been and still are real, and the recognition of their reality, the realization of it, has now completely changed the wretched Steppenwolf’s mood. He is not trapped in the prison of the present moment, and the dullness he feels toward life is a colossal mistake, his ideas of suicide an absurdity. As he becomes aware of more reality, he becomes more real himself. “The golden trail was blazed and I was reminded of the eternal, and of Mozart and the stars.” Would that we all were!

Harry Haller was reminded of the reality of the stars, of Mozart and of the eternal. But did he actually forget that Mozart existed, or that the stars did? (We can put the eternal aside for a moment.) Did he forget about their existence in the same way that he might have forgotten his keys or a friend’s telephone number? What exactly is he “remembering” here?

What Hesse means by being “reminded” here is not the same as when we are reminded of some fact we have forgotten, say, the year of Mozart’s birth or when he composed the Jupiter Symphony. What has set the golden trail ablaze is not some fact like this coming to the Steppenwolf’s attention. He does not say “Oh yes. How could I forget? Mozart existed and wrote all that music. And the stars and the eternal exist too. How silly of me.” He was in full possession of these facts before he drank his glass of wine. But he was not in full possession of the reality of those facts until he did. Something prevented him from remembering it or somehow came between the acknowledgement of the fact and the appreciation of its meaning. And now the wine has somehow removed this impediment and the reality of things – or at least that part of it he has “forgotten” – comes rushing in. No surprise that wine and poetry have long been fellow travellers.

And it is because the Steppenwolf is not in full possession of reality that he finds the “lukewarm and insipid air of his so-called good and tolerable days” absolutely unbearable and he spends his evenings wondering whether or not he should slit his throat.

What has saved him from doing so that particular evening is precisely the reality of other times and places, coming back to him and rescuing him from the misconception that reality is whatever happens to be in front our noses at the moment. It is not. These things that come rushing to him really happened and they are really a part of his life. They happened in the past, yes, but what of it? What is time that it should decide whether something is real or not? It is all well and good to “be here now,” as much sage wisdom advises. But it all depends on how big is “here” and how long is “now”. “Here” can mean the entire universe and “now” all eternity – if, as the teachers of the imagination tell us, we know how to enter them. At that moment when the wine released the restraints on his imagination, the past was as fully real to the Steppenwolf as the present was. Even more real, as the present he had taken for reality was a confidence trick that, luckily, he has seen through.

So that is an example of how imagination, rather than dealing in unrealities, is an absolutely necessary ingredient in our capacity to fully grasp actual, well-established realities. And again, this is not some metaphor or “manner of speaking.” Harry Haller may be a fictional character, but anyone who knows about Hesse’s life knows that an H.H. turns up in more than one novel and is usually not very far removed from Hesse himself. I think we can take it as given that the kind of experience Harry Haller had was also had in some way by Hesse himself. He certainly entertained suicidal thoughts on more than one occasion. It was precisely in order to understand the meaning of such experiences, that Hesse wrote Steppenwolf and his other novels.

In general Hesse’s heroes find something “missing” in life and head out on the road in order to find it. And on the way they have strange moments when what is missing is suddenly found. And like Harry Haller they do feel “How could I forget?,” but not about this or that fact, but about the reality of their experience. Indeed, how could they forget that? What is missing? Reality, or our grasp of it. How can we regain it? Imagination.

This is not a talk about Hesse, so I should move on. But you can find other examples of the “Mozart and the stars” experience in Steppenwolf and in Hesse’s other novels. Now let me offer a few examples of other types of experience associated with the “learning of the imagination.” Let me give you one from a younger contemporary and countryman of Hesse, although one who had very different views on life and society.

In his unclassifiable work The Adventurous Heart, the writer Ernst Jünger has a section entitled “The Master Key.” In it he offers an example of a kind of imaginative knowing that is direct, immediate, much in the way that the reality of the past came to Hesse’s Steppenwolf directly. “Our understanding is such,” Jünger writes, “that it is able to engage from the circumference as well as at the midpoint.” “For the first case we possess ant-like industriousness, for the second the gift of intuition.” Jünger comments that “for the mind that comprehends the midpoint, knowledge of the circumference becomes secondary – just as individual room keys lose importance for someone with the master key to the house.”

Knowing from the mid-point, or, we could say, at the bull’s eye, is a way of knowing that is direct, not discursive. It does not follow steps or stages but goes straight to the center, to the heart we might say. It possesses a miraculous accuracy but it has one drawback. It is unable to explain how it knows what it knows, how it came to its knowledge. Intuitions come to us, suddenly, out of the blue, and we just know they are right, even though we can’t explain why or how. That is the benefit of the ant-like industriousness of those who proceed from the circumference – that is, using our usual way of knowing, with all the individual keys to all the separate rooms. It is dull and repetitious, but once we know something in this way, we can tell someone else how we know it, and show them so that they can know it too. I can’t share my intuitive bull’s eyes in the same way, although if I am an artist or creative in some way, I may be able to create something that can spark an intuition in you. But I can’t write out a formula for one in the same way that I can, say, for a chemical experiment.

This kind of direct knowledge appears in different ways. Goethe experienced something of it when he perceived his Urpflanze in the Botanical Gardens in Palermo during his famous Italian Journey. Gazing at the plants there in the hot Mediterranean sun, Goethe believed he could see what he called the “Primal Plant,” the archetypal plant from which all others emerge and with which all others are still in sympathy, that is, connected. It was “real” but it was not physical, and to see it require a long training and discipline in the imagination which, for Goethe, was as precise an instrument as any used by his fellow scientists. Goethe wrote about his experience of “seeing ideas” – as his friend Schiller called it – but he knew that it was “impossible to understand just from reading.” One had to see the Primal Plant for oneself, and that meant training the imagination to do so.

The kind of inner seeing that Goethe practiced in order to see his Urpflanze has much in common with what the alchemist and Egyptologist René Schwaller de Lubicz called “the intelligence of the heart.” This was a way of understanding the world that de Lubicz believed was at the center of ancient Egyptian religion and civilization. It too was a way of seeing into things, of looking into their interior and grasping the interconnectedness of all experience. De Lubicz speaks of a way of knowing the world in which we can “tumble from the rock that falls from the mountain,” “rejoice with the rosebud about to open,” and “expand in space with the ripening fruit.” As with Jünger’s “master key,” “the intelligence of the heart” is a way of going directly to the center of experience, of participating with it, in a way that our usual way of knowing, from the outside, finds incomprehensible. It is a way of knowing that, using a term from the esoteric tradition,  we can call a gnosis.

There are other forms of imaginative knowing, such as the inner journeying of seers such as the 11th century Persian mystical philosopher Suhrawardi, the Swedish scientist and religious philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, the psychologist Carl Jung, and the 20th century Iranologist Henry Corbin. I explore them in my book Lost Knowledge of the Imagination and unfortunately I can only mention them here. In this talk I have focused on one aspect of our imaginative knowing, that of its power to grasp reality. But as I say, reality extends into more directions than we might immediately recognize. What Suhrawardi, Swedenborg, Jung, Corbin, and many others discovered was that our imagination is our entry point into the little explored universe each of us carries around inside our heads. A world extends outside of us infinitely. There is also an inner world that extends into an equal infinity within our minds, with its own landscapes, geography, laws, and, most strange, inhabitants. But that I will have to leave for another talk.

What I want to do now, as I see I have to bring this talk to a close,  is to show why I think recognizing that imagination as a means of grasping reality is something of vital importance to us, and why it is necessary in order to meet the challenges facing us in our crisis of the ego. The importance of having a good grasp on reality should not require too much argument, to be sure. What is necessary is to show that although we think we already have reality well in hand, we don’t. And again, what I mean by “reality” here isn’t anything abstract or metaphysical or spiritual or cosmic. I mean common, everyday reality, the unavoidable kind. It was his weak grasp on this reality, the reality of his life, that led Hesse’s Steppenwolf to grow to hate his pleasant, comfortable existence and consider slitting his throat as a stimulating alternative. We can say this is our existential reality.

If a man as intelligent, cultured, and mature as Hesse’s Steppenwolf – and, we can assume, Hesse himself – could so lose his grip on what was real and meaningful about his existence – “Mozart and the stars” – that he could be brought to thoughts of suicide, how better would a less developed individual fare when subject to the same tendency we all have to what Colin Wilson calls “life-devaulation,” which is really a way of expressing our common sin of getting used to things and taking them for granted? What does “getting used to” or “taking for granted” mean? It means that we begin to notice only the fact of some reality or other, and lose sight of its meaning. It means a failure of our imagination to hold on to the full reality. We devalue it. The mere fact is easy to retain – our senses help us here. To retain the meaning requires a kind of effort on our part, and we easily forget this or find it too taxing to make. And because we fail to make this effort, we fall into the trap of accepting the half-reality we perceive – the side of it available to our senses – as the whole of reality, and we base our decisions about life on this diminished picture.

Because of this we are apt to make bad decisions, ones based on only what is immediately before our eyes. That is, short-sighted ones.

This cannot be good.

We can say that all acts of imagination are designed to in some way retard or reverse this process. Going about life in this state is only a kind of half-living. We are all subject to this. We are all Steppenwolves, of one kind or another. But we too can all remember Mozart and the stars. And it is important that we do because the crises facing us will require our grip on reality to be as firm and tenacious as we can make it. In fact, it’s the case today that in many ways “reality” is up for grabs. This is something I have written about in my most recent book, Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, which looks at how certain ideas about how we “create our own reality,” stemming from occultism and postmodernism, have informed contemporary politics in the United States, Russia, and also in Europe. So the question of securing a firm grip on reality is not solely a philosophical or psychological one. It has also bled over into politics. I would say that in general today, reality is under threat.

Regaining the lost knowledge of the imagination, or even recognizing that such a knowledge is there to be regained, can, I believe, help us here. It may be a means by which we can find a way through our crises that brings the two dimensions of our experience – facts and their meaning – together in a collaboration that is “just right.” If so, that would be a reality worth creating.

 

 

 

 

 

Religion and the Rebel Returns

Aristeia Press’s new edition of Colin Wilson’s second book, Religion and the Rebel, to which I was honored to contribute an Introduction, will be coming out next month. This is good news for Wilson readers, young or old. I’ve often considered Religion and the Rebel Wilson’s ‘lost book’. Because of the critical about-face that followed The Outsider’s – Wilson’s first book – success, Religion and the Rebel was almost universally panned, its reception setting the stage for practically all the subsequent notice Wilson would receive from mainstream literary pundits. Yet the rejection of Wilson’s second born had more to do with his erroneous association with the Angry Young Men and the media hoopla about them, than with the book’s own merits. Of these there are many, and in Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, I devote several pages to spelling them out. In essence Wilson asks if the Outsider can find a solution to his dilemma in religion. At one point Wilson himself considered entering a monastery, but in the end decided against it. Religion and the Rebel gives us an idea why.

Yet although Wilson was never as angry as he was expected to be, in Religion and the Rebel, he does let off some steam about modern civilization, which he saw as riddled with “cheapness and futility,” and on the face of which his evolutionary protagonist, the Outsider, appears as a kind of existential pimple, “lonely in the crowd of the second-rate.” This alienation could lead to “a maniac carrying a knife in a black bag, taking pride in appearing harmless and normal to other people,” or to “a saint or visionary, caring for nothing but one moment in which he seemed to understand the world, and see into the heart of nature and of God.” It could also lead, as it does in this book, to insightful examinations of figures like the Bohemian mystic Jacob Boehme, the mathematician and religious thinker Blaise Pascal, the ‘biologist of history’, Oswald Spengler, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, who holds the distinction of being so weary of his thought-riddled nature, that he tried to put an end to philosophy, twice. But read for yourself.

The Outsider Strikes Back!

Here is a letter I wrote in response to a review of Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson published in Fortean Times No. 353, for May 2017. While I am open to criticism, I believe the reviewer did little more than repeat much of the calumny Wilson received in his lifetime. I am very happy that David Sutton, editor of Fortean Times, was open to my letter and published it in Fortean Times No. 355, for July 2017.

Dear Fortean Times,
Many thanks for David Barrett’s review of my latest book, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, which appears in FT 353 for May 2017. I appreciate that you devote ample space to the book, but I would like to clarify some remarks that, I believe, may give readers a wrong impression about it.
The reviewer remarks that “aside from the early pages,” most of the book is about Wilson’s work, and hence is not really a biography, but more of a ‘philosophy textbook’. Would that such textbooks had such philosophy. He does acknowledge that because Wilson wrote about ideas, this makes the book more about their development than his. Perhaps, although I do believe I follow Wilson’s life fairly closely, linking the ideas he is grappling with to their expression in his life. I don’t believe it is true that aside from charting his early years as a struggling wannabe before The Outsider threw him into a celebrity spotlight he never really wanted, there is nothing about his life. There is plenty about it. But Wilson himself would say that what is really important about a writer is what he says. As the majority of material written about Wilson ignores practically everything he wrote aside from The Outsider, I believe, as he did, that the books that followed, and which made up what he called ‘the Outsider cycle’, warrant serious consideration,and I was determined to give them that. As I say in the Introduction, my aim was to present an ‘introductory overview’ of Wilson’s life and work and to ‘make clear some of the basic ideas and aims of Wilson’s philosophy’ so that it may ‘prompt readers unfamiliar with his work to seek out his books and read them for themselves.’
My reason for doing this is, as the reviewer remarks, because Wilson wrote an enormous amount about a wide range of different but related subjects. Yet all of his subjects are linked by a common theme, what Wilson calls ‘the paradoxical nature of freedom’. My aim was to show to readers how this common and, to my mind, absolutely important insight, informs all his work. The reviewer’s cursory assessment of this as ‘common sense’ and his brief remarks about it suggests that in his case I failed.
The reviewer also suggests that I did not sufficiently question Wilson’s assessment of himself as a ‘genius’. Yet he seems to have missed several places in which I do just that, or at least question a 24 year-old’s too frequent acknowledgement of it. So, on p. 54, I write: ‘It was that word “genius” that began to irritate the mostly modest reading public” and I suggest that the fact that “he himself breathed it somewhat injudiciously did not help.” I also suggest that “Wilson’s own inexperience and lack of guile also ensured that he would put his foot in it” (p. 56) in interviews.There are other examples of my questioning as well. But then, reviewers like Cyril Connolly, Philip Toynbee, Edith Sitwell and others were themselves announcing Wilson’s ‘genius’ to their readers from the moment The Outsider appeared. Who are we – or Wilson – to disagree? And do I consider him a ‘genius’? Well, Wilson himself points out the difference between having genius and being one, and I have no doubt that he had it, and on more occasions than only The Outsider. I let the reader know up front that I am a ‘fan’ and that Wilson was a ‘mentor’ to me – and to many others who found in his work important and essential ideas about human existence and consciousness. But then the ‘totally brainless’ English approach is very often to castigate anyone who believes in anything and to celebrate either mediocrity or the kind of cynical know-it-all pessimism that is forever fearful of any wool being pulled over its eyes. By the way, two other English thinkers I met and wrote about, Owen Barfield and Kathleen Raine, said exactly the same thing about the English, so perhaps this insight is not limited to Wilson.
The reviewer also points out that there is only one paragraph about Wilson’s politics, mentioning his support for Thatcher. Yet he fails to mention that Wilson also wrote an open letter calling for her resignation. He also says that Wilson had views ‘much further to the right’. That Wilson was labeled a ‘fascist’ by people like John Osborne, Kenneth Tynan and other fashionably left writers, solely because he was interested in existential concerns, not social ones,  is simply name-calling. Wilson was not in the least interested in politics – in fact, he started his public career as an anarchist at Speaker’s Corner –  although, as I do point out, some of his Angry Young friends, like the novelist Bill Hopkins, were. Wilson did edit a book called Marx Refuted, which included contributions by Karl Popper, Leszek Kolakowski, and Arthur Koestler, among others. Calling them ‘far-right’ is rather like called Tony Blair ‘far-left’. I also say, on p. 359, that Wilson ‘could show surprising political naivete’, apropos of a lunch he once had with Oswald Mosley. On the same page I have Wilson saying that he ‘always labelled myself a socialist’ but he later came to reject socialism while writing a book about Shaw. But he has ‘been against the Tories all my life’. With all this, I somehow can’t find the views that the reviewer says were ‘much further to the right.’
I can’t agree that most readers would see ‘arrogance or blindness or both’ about Wilson’s confidence in his work. My experience and that of the readers of my book has been quite the opposite: in this we see the kind of self-belief that anyone attempting to do something out of the normal run of things must have in order to survive the kind of disparagement and sheer disdain that most often comes from being – dare I say it? – an ‘Outsider’. And what are we to think of a reviewer for the Fortean Times who thinks that all of what Wilson had to say about synchronicity – a phenomenon whose reality I am as convinced of as I am of anything else – came from one experience? That is simply not the case, and the reviewer misrepresents the incident in question egregiously.
The other supposed flaws in the book are, sadly, duly acknowledged. I would have liked to have had more room to discuss Wilson’s fictions, although I do go into detail about his first novel Ritual in the Dark and do comment on The Mind Parasites, The Philosopher’s Stone, and, at greater length, The Black Room. This lack must be chalked up to sheer space and time; the book is over 200,000 words (twice the word count allotted) and I was already far behind schedule by the time I delivered it. (Readers interested in an excellent study of Wilson’s fictions should find Novels to Some Purpose: The Fiction of Colin Wilson by Nicolas Tredell.) And the index was the publisher’s work. I did want to include a bibliography, but space and time again precluded that.
I should point out though, that the reviewer’s dismay about not being able to look up ‘key Wilsonian concepts like “Factor X” is perhaps more home-grown than he may think. Wilson does not write about ‘Factor X’ but ‘Faculty X‘. Such an obvious mistake from a reviewer whose tone throughout suggests a prejudice against Wilson’s work, and whose review fails to do justice in any way to any of Wilson’s ideas- a fate Wilson had to endure endless times over during his life- suggests that he may have profited from grasping the key phenomenological insight – which Wilson spelled out in many ways in many books – about how our expectations can obscure what is right in front of us.