A Primary Reading List
When I was twenty, the poet Robert Kelly presented Lindy and me with a reading list to get us started, so to speak, in life. He was concerned that the traditional education that we were receiving at Amherst and Smith Colleges was missing a lot of important things, like what the universe is, what it means to be human, the history of the non-Western Earth, how the gods have been named, and so on. I may still have that original Kelly list somewhere in a file, but I can’t find it. I do remember that his curriculum included The Sufis, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Magick in Theory and Practice, and a few other books that I have carried over to this list, which is my current and expanded version of the Kelly list.
My categories are fluid and informal and are provided here mostly to help organize titles. Most of these books could easily slot into more than one category.
Originally I was just going to list the books, as Kelly did, but then that seemed spartan for a website era. Once I began composing descriptions, I realized that the nature of the books themselves as well as my present relationship to their content led me to have more—and different things—to say about them now than when I first read them. On a second pass I decided to add quotes from some (but not all) of the texts. If quoting seemed superfluous, I often let it go, though in many instances I did it anyway, out of respect for the text—giving at least a taste of the author’s actual words.
A shorter description usually means that I have covered the book so thoroughly elsewhere in my writing that I don’t have the enthusiasm to repeat my words here. It sometimes means that I have forgotten too much of the detail in the book to do it full justice. In fact, I have forgotten some books almost completely, so I wasn’t able to describe them without looking back to refresh my memory.
In all cases, the books themselves had a huge impact—subtle or charismatic—that cannot be encapsulated. That is why I was able to forget the entire contents of a few texts and continue to be influenced by them.
I have listed most translators, especially of contemporary books. Older works with multiple acceptable translations belong to the planet. They have entered the metaphorical noosphere and are already bouncing back out of the Akashic Record (metaphorical or real).
- The Form and Operation of the Part of the Universe That is Invisible to Us
- The Esoteric Tradition in the West
- The Nature of Our Body-Minds
- Psychology, Psychosomatic Healing, and Parapsychology
- The Search for the Divine and Modes of Love and Ascension
- Culture, Language, and Symbol
- Science as a Path to Meaning
- Lost Civilizations, The Sources of Western Thought, and the Discovery of the Americas
- Non-Western World-Views and Critique of the West
- Practicing Mortality, Life, and Death
In Search of the Miraculous by P. D. Ouspensky
The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by P. D. Ouspensky
The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
The Theory of Celestial Influence by Rodney Collin
The Theory of Conscious Harmony by Rodney Collin
The Seth Material by Jane Roberts
Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul by Jane Roberts
Level 1 Meditation Class by John Friedlander
The Seven Planes of Consciousness: An Exploration of the Energy Frequencies of Human Awareness by John Friedlander
The Tarot by Paul Foster Case.
The Zodiac: A Life Epitome by Walter H. Sampson
The Planetarization of Consciousness: From the Individual to the Whole by Dane Rudhyar
The Astrology of Personality by Dane Rudhyar
Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition by Frances A. Yates
The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age by Frances A. Yates
The Rosicrucian Enlightenment; and Theatre of the World by Frances A. Yates
Magick in Theory and Practice by Aleister Crowley
An Outline of Occult Science by Rudolf Steiner
Cosmic Memory: Atlantis and Lemuria by Rudolf Steiner
The Nature of Substance by Rudolf Hauschka, translated by Mary T. Richards and Marjorie Spock
“The Theatre of Terrestrial Astronomy” by Edward Kelley
Unancestral Voice by Owen Barfield
Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry by Owen Barfield
History in English Words by Owen Barfield.
The Primacy of Perception by Maurice Merleau-Ponty translated by James Edie
Signs by Maurice Merleau-Ponty translated by Richard C. McCleary.
Man on His Nature by Sir Charles Sherrington
Process and Reality by Alfred North Whitehead
Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness by Donna Haraway
Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields: Metaphors That Shape Embryos by Donna Haraway
Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates by Slavoj Zizek
The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan
Migraine by Oliver Sacks
Metaphors of Vision by Stan Brakhage
Language, Thought, & Reality by Benjamin Lee Whorf
The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud
Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality by Sandor Ferenczi
The Alchemy of Healing: Psyche and Soma by Edward C. Whitmont
Living Your Dying by Stanley Keleman
Sexuality, Self & Survival by Stanley Keleman
The Fifty-Minute Hour by Robert Lindner
People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil by M. Scott Peck
Psychology and Alchemy by C. G. Jung
Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by C. G. Jung
Symbols of Transformation by C. G. Jung
Civilization in Transition by C. G. Jung
The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, & The Origins of Culture by William Irwin Thompson
The Myth of Analysis by James Hillman
Revisioning Psychology by James Hillman
Working the Soul by Charles Poncé
The Archetype of the Unconscious and the Transfiguration of Therapy by Charles Poncé
Freud & Man’s Soul by Bruno Bettelheim
Ether, God, and Devil/Cosmic Superimposition by Wilhelm Reich
Character Analysis by Wilhelm Reich
The Function of the Orgasm by Wilhelm Reich
Paranormal Foreknowledge by Jule Eisenbud
Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi by Henri Corbin
The Sufis by Idries Shah
The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi by Andrew Harvey
The Holy Kabbalah by A. E. Waite
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
Stones of the New Consciousness: Healing, Awakening, & Co-Creating with Crystals, Minerals, & Gems by Robert Simmons
The Savage Mind by Claude Lévi-Strauss
Totemism by Claude Lévi-Strauss
The Raw and the Cooked by Claude Lévi-Strauss
Structural Anthropology by Claude Lévi-Strauss
The White Goddess by Robert Graves
Les Mots et Les Choses by Michel Foucault
The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, translated by Maria Jolas
Navaho Religion: A Study in Symbolism by Gladys Reichard
On Growth and Form by D’arcy Thompson
The Seven Mysteries of Life: An Exploration in Science and Philosophy by Guy Murchie
Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan
Forerunners of Darwin: 1754-1859 edited by Bentley Glass, Owsei Temkin, and William Strauss, Jr.
The Great Chain of Being by Arthur O. Lovejoy
Ontogeny and Phylogeny by Stephen Jay Gould
Investigations by Stuart Kauffman
The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler
The Roots of Coincidence: An Excursion into Parapsychology by Arthur Koestler
The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers by Carl L. Becker
Physics and Philosophy by Werner Heisenberg
Physics and Beyond by Werner Heisenberg
Across the Frontiers by Werner Heisenberg
The Nature of Time, edited by Thomas Gold
8. Lost Civilizations, The Sources of Western Thought, and the Discovery of the Americas
The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans by G.J. Sawyer, Viktor Deak, Esteban Sarmiento, and Richard Milner
The Roots of Civilization by Alexander Marshack
Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on Myth & The Fame of Time by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend
Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age by Charles Hapgood
The Presocratics edited by Philip Wheelwright
The Timaeus by Plato
The Enneads by Plotinus
Land to the West: St. Brendan’s Voyage to America by Geoffrey Ashe
The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations by Cyrus H. Gordon
The Beothuk Saga by Bernard Assiniwi, translated by Wayne Grady
Westviking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America by Farley Mowat
Northern Mists by Carl Sauer
Land and Life by Carl Sauer
The Early Spanish Main by Carl Sauer
Sixteenth-Century North America by Carl Sauer
Seventeeth-Century North America by Carl Sauer
Plants, Man, and Life by Edgar Anderson
The Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos by Knud Rasmussen
Mambu: A Study of Melanesian Cargo Movements and Their Social and Ideological Background by Kenelm Burridge
The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda
A Separate Reality; Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda
The Eagle’s Gift by Carlos Castaneda
Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda
Stone Age Economics by Marshall Sahlins
The World of Primitive Man by Paul Radin
The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology by Paul Radin
Primitive Man as Philosopher by Paul Radin
Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Ogalala Sioux by John G. Neihardt
Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian, edited by Leo W. Simmons
The Lost Universe: The Way of Life of the Pawnee by Gene Weltfish
The Toe Bone and the Tooth: An Ancient Mayan Story Relived in Modern Times (Stealing Benefacio’s Roses) by Martín Prechtel
Long Life, Honey in the Heart by Martín Prechtel
The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde Kunjed Gyalpo by Chogyal Namkhaf Norum and Adriano Clemente
Carefree Dignity: Discourses on Training in the Nature of Mind Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche
Fearless Simplicity: The Dzogchen Way of Living Freely in a Complex World by Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki-roshi
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa
The Myth of Freedom by Chögyam Trungpa
Transcending Madness by Chögyam Trungpa
The Lion’s Roar by Chögyam Trungpa
Crazy Wisdom by Chögyam Trungpa
Easy Death: Spiritual Wisdom on the Ultimate Transcending of Death and Everything Else by Da Free John
The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo: A new translation with commentary by Francesca Fremantle and Chögyam Trungpa
The Tibetan Book of the Dead, translated by W. Y. Evans-Wentz
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
In Search of the Miraculous and The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by P. D. Ouspensky.
Leading off and batting first on Kelly’s list (and mine), is In Search of the Miraculous, Ouspensky’s account of his initial meeting and years of study with his mentor, the mysterious teacher-guru G. (G. I. Gurdjieff). ISOTM takes you through a narrative education by G. from the ground up, as O is led to occult seminars in pre-Revolutionary Russia. (See View from the Real World: Early Talks of Gurdjieff for the master at his best in his own words.)
G.’s universe of octaves and shocks upholsters a vast unseen system in which worlds and creatures have manifested, a cosmos generated and linked by transformative vibrations that are also its creationary forces.
I had encountered fragments and derivatives of such liturgy before, but here it rang true for the first time, and its living immediacy changed my perception of the cosmos around me for good.
According to G., we exist as physical energy states that can evolve to subtilize, to remember themselves (who and what they really are). G. provides yoga- and Feldenkrais-like movements for becoming more conscious; that is, for breaking with unconscious and involuntary habits and automatic behaviors that are rooted in the denser aspects of our manifestation.
Whether acted upon explicitly or not, Gurdjieff’s injunction to AWAKE is irrefutable: a fundamental imperative. He pronounced ominously enough that we have no other choice: if anyone should realize their actual situation in the universe at any given moment, they would not be able bear it or to remain there a moment longer.
All psychic processes are material, but the converse is also true. Psychic stuff corresponds directly to physical substance, always—the two realms are linked by their frequencies of manifestation—and both coevolve through the thermodynamics of psychic shocks that convert their density and nature. The ways in which we live our lives provide those shocks, either downward toward unconscious habits and loss of memory or upward toward awakening and freedom.
Everything is subject to universal vibratory laws and the shocks that gradually and eventually transform its essential nature, one way or the other, to another octave. Our emotions (love, anger, and the rest) and our required and conditional acts (eating food, waging battle, worshipping gods, reading books) are likewise psychic, chemical substances.
Gurdjieff says, in effect, that potentially, any molecule in the universe can transcend its transitory form and, through a series of upward jolts, become conscious, even enlightened. On the other hand, any molecule (or person) through a tendency to automation can degrade into a mere flaccid shell:
“Ascent or descent is the inevitable cosmic condition of any action…. Whatever sphere of our life we take we can see that nothing can ever remain level and constant; everywhere and in everything proceeds the swinging of the pendulum, everywhere and in everything the waves rise and fall…. And there are perhaps a hundred pendulums moving here and there in man. These ascents and descents, these wave-like fluctuations of moods, thought, feelings, energy, determination, are periods of the development of forces between ‘intervals’ in the octaves as well as the ‘intervals’ themselves.”
Gurdjieff’s universe is quirky, almost persnickety, in its fussiness of mathematical detail regarding things that cannot finally be quantified in integers; thus to the uninitiated (or uninterested) it may seem like a vintage parody of pseudo-science. Yet it is unavoidably of its time, an era when numbers and ratios provided a way of making abstract things accessible and quasi-real. In truth, G.’s sacred algebra and geometry are hardly needed, as the Gurdjieffian grid of hierarchies of angelic evolution and descent into matter is complete in itself, without ratios, as a cosmological chart-map. It has ramifications for all modes of meditation, ceremonial magic, ritual practice, plus any future plans we might have for ourselves in the universe (big-time, in fact), as its maxims continue to radiate through the scripts of Carlos Castaneda, Da Free John, Chögyam Trungpa, and various Hindu and Buddhist teachers, though its roots are almost certainly more vernacular and dualistically Sufi and Zoroastrian.
At a memorable juncture Ouspensky conveys G.’s idiosyncratic vision of the souls of the unevolved being flayed into bare photons, becoming inanimate stars to light the cosmos forever. This physico-chemical damnation is a signature act of metaphysics, eschatology, and, yes, science fiction. It was a circuit breaker that snapped my childhood trance of outer-space melodramas—and its accompanying burden that I had to imagine or write science fiction in order to get out into the cosmos. With my own shock of recognition I realized that the cosmos I sought was actually spiritual, astral, and already inside me. It didn’t require fantasy spaceships or aliens from central casting. I have never lost that sense of cosmic ground through all the ensuing Moon landings, star wars, and tales of E. T.
Back in the day, In Search of the Miraculous resonated for me with Simon and Garfunkel singing “Sounds of Silence,” though I can’t exactly say why, except that the notion of people bowing and praying to a neon god like automatons recalled O.’s version of G.’s universe (and Jonathan King singing “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon” also resonated with ISOTM because for Gurdieff the Moon was a carnivorous beast that consumes the energetic nectar of the Earth’s heedless unevolved souls upon their death as they float mindlessly across the octaves):
“Everything living on the earth sets free at its death a certain amount of the energy that has ‘animated’ it; this energy, or the ‘souls’ of everything living—plants, animals, people—is attracted to the moon as though by a huge electromagnet, and brings to it the warmth and the life upon which its growth depends, that is, the growth of the ray of creation. In the economy of the universe nothing is lost, and a certain energy having finished its work on one plane goes to another….
“All movements, actions, and manifestations of people, animals, and plants depend upon the moon and are controlled by the moon. The sensitive film of organic life which covers the earthly globe is entirely dependent upon the influence of the huge electromagnet that is sucking out its vitality. Man, like every other living being, cannot, in the ordinary conditions of life, tear himself free from the moon. All his movements and consequently all his actions are controlled by the moon. If he kills another man, the moon does it; if he sacrifices himself for others, the moon does that also. All evil deeds, all crimes, all self-sacrificing actions, all heroic exploits, as well as all the actions of ordinary everyday life, are controlled by the moon.
“The liberation which comes with the growth of mental powers and faculties is liberation from the moon.”
This was amazing stuff for a twenty-year-old who had formerly been accustomed to going the planetarium for his major hits of lunar lore.
Osokin could just as appropriately have been placed in the fiction section on this website, for it is a novel—quite a good one; modern and spare and even a trifle new-wave: a coming-of-age story and a romance, the translation perhaps a bit wooden in execution. It is Ouspensky’s singular and irrefutable transposition of G.’s system into worldly operation.
What happened to Osokin is what would also happen to Holden Caulfield, Huckleberry Finn, or Hamlet if any of them got the chance to live their lives half over again with the intention of “fixing” the things that went wrong. The result (spoiler warning!) is that they would do the same things over again, even if for ostensibly different reasons, and then, like Osokin, they would eventually forget that this “life” wasn’t the first time. This is the Gurdjieffian universe—the great trap.
Ivan ended up back in the domicile of the magician where he first pleaded for a chance to relive his (to that point) sorry life. The magician granted his wish by dispatching him back to a chosen moment in childhood. Initially the metaphysical possibilities of his “second chance” were clear to him, but they soon faded, and he drifted into the same tracks, unconscious and directionless. His life turned tragic and empty again.
On his return to the same room, a vague remembering flickered, and Osokin asked the man if he had been here before. He was told, yes, and he could return again, many times in fact, as many times as he wished, and it would never get any better, only the same or worse, unless or until he woke up.
That is, he will be the involuntary slave of the Moon, carrying out its delusionary and romanticized commands. The only way out of the trap is to change himself, to become more conscious.
In a unique device (unique at least to my experience), the chapters of Osokin repeat identically to show the inescapable recurrence of karma and time. Chapter One, “The Parting,” is, word for word, Chapter Twenty-Six, “The Turning of the Wheel.” After all, the narrator’s life is repeating an identical course.
In 1968 I used Osokin to write a long and discursive review of the movie The Graduate, comparing Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin to Ouspensky’s Ivan. Appearing first in Caterpillar Magazine and anthologized elsewhere, the review became the first piece of writing of mine to get traction in the world at large. Caterpillar editor Clayton Eshleman told me later that film-maker Stan Brakhage was initially enraged to see that such a commercial, mainstream movie reviewed in an avant-garde magazine that would not deign, as Stan put it to Clayton, to review the latest Harold Robins novel.
Later, he told Clayton, he was delighted by the piece’s “Gurdjieffian play of angels and devils.” It didn’t hurt that I cited Brakhage deferentially in the review, honoring him as seminal to all subsequent images of descent into biological core, even the shlocky one of Benjamin underwater in his parents’ swimming pool.
I have a long summary and exegesis of TSLOIO elsewhere in my writing, but I forget where. Maybe in New Moon or Out of Babylon.
Parenthetically I think that someone should make a movie of Osokin with the exactly duplicate shots recurring on Ivan’s return to the magician’s house. My mother’s cousin, film-maker Radley Metzger, agreed with me, and we imagined the Russian train station where the story begins—but that is already forty years ago without results.
Otherwise, British rocker John Maxwell Taylor has composed an energetic musical (Crazy Wisdom) about the relationship between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. It premiered in Southern California in 1993.
Gurdjieffian lore is now an indelible staple of our self-improvement counterculture and its influences, direct and serpentine, will echo through this reading list.
The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
I discovered Teilhard’s Phenomenon of Man in Donald Pitkin’s anthropological evolution course during my senior year at Amherst College. It almost single-handedly convinced me to go on to graduate school in anthropology (unfortunately Pitkin’s course turned out to be the high point of my academic anthropological career, as there was never anything close to Teilhard in my University of Michigan curriculum, except of course the oral traditions of native peoples, and we were not expected to take those at face value, though I did. Professor Mischa Titiev accused me of “diving deep into shallow waters.” If we were still alive, he would scrawl the same words across this entire reading list—him and all the other modernist scientized academics.
The Phenomenon of Man provided a singular and core image for my early work, an anchor for a cosmology I was unknowingly building—that of the Sun as a burning sphere of soul life at a higher energy frequency than the Earth (and the rest of the Solar System), the source of not only all life but all consciousness in this realm.
I have probably not written a book in which Teilhard’s transdimensional Sun and interiority of matter wasn’t a player in one sense or another. It is a stunning and unforgettable vision of the spiritual dimension of the cosmos and the logistics of our world, though his text in translation rarely matches the magnificence of the vision. You have to imagine the amazing thing he is saying:
“…[B]y the very fact of the individualisation of our planet, a certain mass of elementary consciousness was originally emprisoned in the matter of the earth…. By its initial chemical composition, the early earth is itself and in its totality the incredibly complex germ we are seeking. Congenitally, if I may use the word, it already carried pre-life within it, and this moreover in definitive quantity. The whole question is to define how, from this primitive and essentially elastic quantum, all the rest has emerged.”
Teilhard takes you from the genesis of our physical planet in the dust of the solar disk through its palaeoastronomy and palaeontology to arrive at metaphysical watersheds like the cosmic Christ, the Omega Point of history and time, and the building of the noosphere, a zone of raw collective consciousness forming around the Earth (by analogy with the geosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere). Our single salvation and hope is that we are becoming more conscious, and that that is not just an abstract notion but a real chemical, telluric event conferred by the stellar seed at our root. Of course, this sounds like Gurdjieff again, but it is not; for Teilhard’s evolution is collective, Christed, and guaranteed. It is a gift, not a regimen or threat.
Teilhard points into the neglected interior of matter as the sole basis for his primer of esoteric science, demonstrating the manner in which the physical and the spiritual are two faces of the same evolution from a molecular/metaphysical center: “The stuff of the universe, woven in a single piece according to one and the same system…‘the Law of Consciousness and Complexity’…but never repeating itself from one point to another, represents a single figure. Structurally, it forms a Whole….. The order and the design do not appear except in the Whole. The mesh of the universe is the universe itself.”
We will hear this clarion again, with subtly different nuances each time. It is Gnostic and Hopi and Dzogchen too in a kind of goofy way.
Teilhard as an archaeologist-priest does not get too caught up in Sol, our local pagan sun-star, but instead puts his main attention on the evolution of amphibians, vertebrates, and mammals, the advent of Homo sapiens, and Christ’s gift of divine spirit. The Sun may just be a little too pagan for his Church allegiances, so he privileges the “within” of matter—“the ‘psychic’ face of that portion of the stuff of the cosmos enclosed from the beginning of time with the narrow scope of the early earth.” Of course, that stuff came from the Sun; e.g., “the power of fecundating cooling stars…. In that fragment of sidereal matter…as in every other part of the universe, the exterior world must inevitably be lined at every point with an interior one.”
The words “Sun,” “star,” and “solar” remarkably do not appear in the index of The Phenomenon of Man, belying my memory of the book as a virtual shrine of Sun worship—but if you read it the way that I did back then, with somewhat blasphemous attention toward the germinal source cloud of the planet, you will never look at the Sun the same way again; that is, without apprehending some aspect of the transdimensional furnace of pure energy and spirit and within-ness. The naked Sun injects its primordial “love” into the very molecules of its planets and from them into the stones and plants in order to manifest layers of zoological life and animal mind that continue to ascend through physical and body realms, up into the formation of a noosphere, hence back toward solar consciousness and a return, as prayer in vital matter, to their solar origin. In this logos, all of creation is unleashed to endow its Source and elevate it back to sacred form in the molecules that it synthesized and alchemized for the task.
Back in the day, this book resonated for me, not surprisingly, with Little Stevie Wonder singing “There’s A Place in the Sun” (…where there’s hope for everyone/where my poor restless heart’s gotta run….). Just “…like this tired, troubled Earth,” we have been searching for our lost homeland and sanctuary since our birth—we and every other plant, animal, and molecule.
The Theory of Celestial Influence and The Theory of Conscious Harmony by Rodney Collin.
A disciple of Ouspensky (and thereby, Gurdjieff), Rodney Collin gets inside of time, space, and matter to describe the whole gigantic cosmic event as unfolding like a giant rose. Unintentionally foreshadowing, Teilhard (but really G.), Collin believes that life on Earth is a condensation of interior radiation, the incorporation of the divine energy of hydrogen atoms and their electrons into physical bodies—spiritual matter in a cellular state.
Within our Solar System the planetary octaves orchestrate a deep astrological harmony, which becomes evident when perceived in different scales and across long periods of time. Every rock, plants, and creature manifests on its particular world as a cumulative outcome of one or another cycle working between the macrocosm and microcosm. Elements and molecular structures; layers of lithosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, ionosphere; lunar paths darting within zodiacs; formations of amino acids, proteins, chromosomes, and cells; developments of civilizations and empires—all are interwoven in a series of ascending and descending octaves, a solar symphony played out on the Earth within the Solar System by the interrelationships of discrete energies and transformative substances. These forms arise at different levels of microcosm and macrocosm, usually in decimal factors (ten, a hundred, a thousand, etc.). By this engine of sacred geomtry, hidden forces surge from the zodiac, the long body of the Solar System (see below)—the planets, the asteroids, and the Moon—onto the Earth to give rise to economic cycles, wars, waves of fashion and politics, terrorisms and fanatical action; all unconscious, all sowed and harvested as the heavenly bodies pass in their orbits.
Among hundreds of vivid soundings, leading to an esoteric or spiritual astronomy, here are some of my favorite Rodney Collins-isms:
•Our glands and organs—from pineal and pituitary to thymus, pancreas, solar plexus, and genitals—are coiled into the human body in a series of springs or orbits replicating the Solar System; hence the planets work astrologically and logarithmically by activating glands and systems (blood, nerves, and so on) in their orbits, as they sympathetically translate their influences into the microcosm. The Moon, for instance, balances the blood-lymph system, leading to the mechanization of human activity and involuntary and pointless movement (a different version of a familiar Gurdjieffian conceit). The stronger the astral/astrological power (this holds for all the planets, asteroids, etc.), the more imperceptible, however, its influence.
•Nuclear weapons represent an esoteric force externalized. We await the internalization of that same energy, which necessarily must be in the form of active love and the direct transmission of healing (see my note on this prophecy of Collin in On the Integration of Nature).
•Our internal recognition of our own life-span shifts radically from our time in the womb through maturity to old age and death. A full third of incarnation is experienced unconsciously and profoundly through gestation (embryonically), as the hours and minutes, operating on cellular time, pack basic existence into themselves thousands of times more densely than events in the receptors of human adult perception. Yet the womb third of life is not remembered; it is embodied; it is the body; its unremembered memories are the self, the backdrop of being.
The second third of life lasts through childhood roughly until nine years and is archived as its own virtual eternity. Our first nine years are so much more poignant and textured because, cosmologically, they were experienced so deeply and at a density factor of ten.
The last third comprises everything after age nine, during which the soul is created under the outer planets. As the cosmic weight is transferred to soul-making, our terrestrial life gets thinner and thinner, putting less and less into each temporal moment. Time flows by in an increasingly rapid stream. Our final years pass so swiftly that we barely experience them at all.
Even as adults struggle frantically to have meaningful experiences and to slot big events into time to reclaim it from the void, time cheats them by putting less and less of its essence and density into them. Humans fall through time as solid objects fall through air, faster and faster, with the past elusively curving away from them, foreshortening their existence.
•The long body of the Solar System—the Solar System as viewed by the Sun itself at its own extraordinarily slow speed of perception (a blink of the “eye” per millennium)—takes on the shape of a superorganic creature. As the concentric orbits of the different planets, set at harmonic distances from each other by Bode’s Law, become continuous threads and as the planets move at different speeds, the threads knit together into the shape of a long thin torso (again in the Sun’s perception of them, a synapse every thousand or so years).
The Sun thus sees its Solar System not as separate planets and their movements but as a single creature arising in space—even as we view each other (and the objects and creatures of our world) not as electrons in orbital motion within atoms, but as the cumulative result of those movements in gawky bodies at our own interval of perception. The Solar System in the Sun’s glimpse is a solid body, not mostly empty space (as it appears to us), even as we, who are mostly space and energy, appear to one another as solid bodies.
I used this image of the long body of the Solar System in titling my 1971 writings: The Long Body of the Dream.
Other systems within and beyond the Milky Way, for instance the even brighter, more intelligent one generated by the star Antares, give rise to equivalent hierarchies, long bodies, and spheres of life, as the intensity and penetration of their central light translate logarithmically and harmonically into zones and organisms bearing central consciousness.
I read The Theory of Celestial Influence the first time in 1968, my third year of anthropology graduate work, carrying it to class for a while as a kind of amulet. My smug, in fact arrogant, anthropology professor, Joe Jorgenson, used to tease me, his irritation at my seeming gullibility evident. “How can there be a theory without data? Tell me that!” he would demand imperiously.
I don’t remember if I brought Rodney Collin to class just to irritate him and elicit a juicy comment. Plus he was the one who later got me kicked out of the graduate program for a while as an inappropriately directed student–that “diving deep into shallow waters” stuff.
But that is exactly the mainline crisis of our civilization: all data and no essence or meaning. I wanted both: Rodney Collin’s spiritual Solar System and universe of radiant, consciousness-forming stars as well as the graduate science of crosscultural analysis. I did eventually get my PhD despite the smashup between Rodney C. and Joe J.
The Seth Material and Seth Speaks: The Eternal Validity of the Soul by Jane Roberts.
In the early seventies I used to gobble up stuff on rumored communications from disembodied entities. I remember being particularly taken with a message on about the level of “Myers, help….” This dollop represented the meager fruits of a famous early-twentieth-century channeling experiment with a scientist who, after his death, tried to transmit back a pre-planned coda sealed in an envelope. The fragments delivered posthumously were minimal and ambiguous at best, plus the technique itself was quite primitive.
It wasn’t that different from the signature beyond-the-portal communiqué of my childhood: “My name is Friday, Friday Murphy.”
With squibs and snippets of that ilk, you’d think the next step in transmission, if there were even to be one, would be a cohesive series of sentences from the dead about the local scenery. So the sudden full-blown appearance of The Seth Material, Seth Speaks, and their sequels, a full cosmological encyclopedia of cause and effect in the universe, including a convincing explanation of birth, life and death, and an entire geography of creation, with seemingly no transmission obstacles to its passage across the famously impassable threshold was astonishing.
Spirit Seth seemed to skip all the intervening steps, all the improved “Myers experiments,” and go right to delivering the entire house. Before him (and maybe Edgar Cayce, though on a quie different pitch), the best that could be remitted was half a rusty nail. Seth spoke like someone who had been dead and gestating for a very long time and thus was knowledgeable about the nature of the universe. He was also compassionate and wise.
Initially, though, I was suspicious because it seemed too perfect to be real. If the “dead” could gab so eloquently, where had they been all these years?
In fact, we were making a fundamental shift in our evolution on Earth, but its herald came from so far out of the blue and in a text transcribed by an ordinary, non-priestess homemaker in rural New York State whom no one had previously heard of, either as a scientist or a medium, that it was as though it couldn’t be real, couldn’t be what it was—in fact, might well be a hoax: a beneficent one but a hoax all the same.
Time has revealed that it was exactly what it seemed—a fundamental shift in access—one so spontaneous, straightforward, and, yes, modest that it was impossible to grasp as what it was. Seth’s texts are so straightforward and explicit that they seem fake or, more like the classic purloined letter, are read without being appreciated, looked at without actually being seen. They are still the bible of consciousness after death.
Seth presents a vast reincarnative universe (and a surprisingly loving one), a universe in which everyone passes benignly through multiple phases and states of being in order to grow and learn. Quite paternally he tells us to go on playing away here, to do what we will, to splash away, even dangerously and destructively, because we are not (and can never be) anything more than schoolchildren with toys.
We can do no real damage to ourselves or to the actual universe.
The sole point of human incarnation is to get to experience reality through our deeds so that we begin to grasp the depth and cosmic and metaphysical complexity of creation and gain an inner awareness of its different zones and the consequences of our acts in them. Here is some classic Sethian messaging, indicative of his jolly yet wry personality:
“A true understanding of the way in which an idea becomes physical matter would result in a complete revamping of your so-called modern technology, and in buildings, roads, and other structures that would far outlast those you now have. While the psychic reality behind physical matter is ignored, then you cannot use those methods effectively that do exist, nor can you take advantage of them. You cannot understand the psychic reality that is the true impetus for your physical existence unless you first realize your own psychic reality, and independence from physical laws.”
Big stuff and very simply stated. From where Seth hangs out, our world resembles shifting castles of fog. His hallmark jibe is (more or less): ‘Hey, y’all. You could build a real world with real stuff someday that would last and work and not mess up if you would just face the fact that this chimerical landscape in which you dwell is merely psychic vibrations swirling into matter.’
Seth’s teachings are reasonable, almost obvious, but on the other hand they contain scripture that almost no one knows anymore and that the modern world-view does not sanction or believe:
“The human being does not erupt into existence at birth and laboriously then begin its first attempt to gain experience. If this were the case, you would still be back in the Stone Age.” A precise refutation of all of science and psychology and their sole emphasis on education of the tabula rasa.
Through Jane Roberts, Seth just goes on talking respectfully but as if to neophytes: “When I tell you that you lived in 1836, I say this because it makes sense to you now. You live all your reincarnations at once, but you find this difficult to understand.”
What stands out is this spirit’s quiet confidence and humor, the diametric opposite of Gurdjieff’s imposition of omen and threat. Yet, oddly, S.’s and G.’s epistles may contain precisely the same esoteric message. In Seth’s words:
“Now, for those of you who are lazy, I can offer no hope: death will not bring you an eternal resting place. You may rest, if this is your wish, for a while. Not only must you use your abilities after death, however, but you must face up to yourself for those that you did not use during your previous existence.”
He makes a hungry-ghost, hell-like burden sound upbeat, as if to say: ‘This is cool stuff; you’re really going to dig it!” as opposed to Gurdjieff’s, ‘You are going to have to work really hard and suffer a lot of hardship if you want to keep from getting gobbled up by the hungry Moon.’
Gentle, tolerant Seth again: “You will reincarnate whether or not you believe that you will. It is much easier if your theories fit reality, but if they do not, you will not change the nature of reincarnation one iota.”
Definite, brutal in its own quiet way, but also hopeful and kind.
No wonder this avatar was so astonishing, unexpected, and subtly invasive. He was far, far ahead of our time:
“Forget the cringing selves that you sometimes are and remember, instead, the magic essence of your own being that sings even now through your fingertips. This is the reality which you are seeking. Experience it fully. Do you need an old dead thing like me to tell you what life is? I should be ashamed.”
So who is he? Was he once once of us? And what great test of our souls is his presence (and guidance and omen) grounded in?
We still don’t know, and we will still await him, though in the world of literature he has come and gone:
“Travel in peace and joy and safety, in your bodies and out.”
Always the love, the cheerfulness; always the foretokening.
Level 1 Meditation Class and The Seven Planes of Consciousness: An Exploration of the Energy Frequencies of Human Awareness by John Friedlander (CDs/downloads).
John Friedlander, an early student of Jane Roberts, brings some of Seth’s cosmic grandeur and humanity into his teachings. He is a guide through not only traditional theosophical realms but into Aquarian vicinities alluded to by Seth, frequencies that are just now coming into our collective range. John has mastered the art of subplanar vibration; thus by simply receiving his voice and its energy, with active imagination, you can travel with him through the same cosmic ranges and realms in your own aura and at a frequency of your own consciousness.
In these recordings, John is witty, wry, courteous, affable, intellectual, respectful of history and tradition, metaphysically alert and evocative, psychologically astute. His “Seven Planes” escalator with its subplanar frequences really works—not as some super séance or psychedelic fireworks but as a simple vessel to familiar yet unfamiliar components of your own energetic vehicle. I attest to that firsthand (see my book 2013).
The subplanes of the Etheric, Mental, Causal, Buddhic, Atmic, Monadic, and Adi operate at a more elevated, subtle, and sublime resonance than the frequencies of our daily existence, but they are not otherwise weird or strange. In fact, we live (and our soul lives) at many frequencies and in many worlds simultaneously, in contact with myriad other intelligences and beings, of which we are not ordinarily conscious but which register in our aura and are carried in the larger collectivity of our spiritual and karmic existence.
We are, after all, energy beings, chakra fields in the process of materializing through our auras.
John facilitates our capacity to travel more consciously among the fields that are already constellated in us. To be able to access those fields and the pictures contained in them is to inhabit our actual place in the universe and to experience anew the meaning of ancient and long-term karma and past lives (or energies) in our auras, at least to the degree that these states manifest as psychic and spiritual pictures in actual energy fields. John provides the tools to work with this unseen, more magical, vaster universe. To dead-reckon the pictures and hindrances that hover in your aura allows you an opportunity not only to experience them fully (and thus make the universe larger) but to work consciously with them and take a shot at dissolving some of their more trenchant blocks, even ones from lifetimes ago.
Check out also John’s books and his website linked on this website. Plus North Atlantic plans a new book and a series of training CDs by him in 2011.
The Tarot by Paul Foster Case.
There are innumerable keys to get “inside” the cards, but PFC’s old-timey vintage guidebook still seems to me, after many years, the primo lode, the inside track—and, once on board and satisfied with the journey, you can receive more of Mr. Case’s esoteric intelligence by enrolling in Builders of the Adytum and receiving biweekly installments of the book behind the book, which is probably a few thousand times longer.
The cards are not mere symbols. Arranged in symbolic pictures packed with kabbalistic, astrological, alchemical, and theosophical information, they are operators and activators of an ancient and elevated mode of consciousness. As synaptic firing nodes, they must be received at the right vibration; otherwise, they quickly devolve into mere intellectual or romantic exercises in staged symbolism and prophecy-mongering, prone to self-delusion on both sides of the deck. At the right frequency, though, they trigger the message of a higher intelligence and invite a tarot spirit guide into your life.
The “meanings” of the cards are merely the first scaffold, the beginning of a bridge to spontaneous initiation by dormant wisdom seeds (Check out what I have written about my first metaphysical breakthrough with a tarot-card vision in New Moon).
Case is not afraid to siphon very high energies in his downloading of the archetypal Trumps on which the actual cards are based, evoking hidden figures, anagrams, numerologies, koans, projective forms, and trans dimensions. Yet, at the same time, his depictions are pragmatic and accessible. They are neither flamboyant nor inflated, though they do have a science-fiction patina to them. He manages to represent their images credibly on multiple levels and scales simultaneously, physical and spiritual, tying the macrocosm and microcosm together without tears (either homograph okay) and leading the student on a grail across the vast reaches of space and time coded in the mosaic windows.
Case’s seamless blending of the language of psychology with codes of hermetics and hermeneutics and tidbits of geology, astronomy, numerology, and holy kabbalah, transmits an actual kinesis of vision. The same tools and matrices can be used for fortune-telling and divination, the sole hierarchy of Greater Trumps replaced by one of the limitless individual maps of karma and soul at a specific Indicator gateway in space and time.
In my book Early Field Notes from the All-American Revival Church from the early seventies, I vernacularized and expanded upon Case’s Trumps. Here I will give a quick snapshot précis of the energy field:
The first and zero card, The Fool, is a guileless youth representing the human relationship to the Absolute—that of a rube and neophyte.
The cosmic Life-Breath is “forever young, forever in the morning of its power, forever on the verge of the abyss of manifestation. It is neither male nor female, hence the gay young traveler’s figure might be either a lad, or a girl disguised…. Actually it is the Heavenly Androgyne.”
S/he is dressed in a brilliant white robe of wisdom, concealed by a black cloak of ignorance, itself lined with the red of passion, fire, and material force. S/he carries the wand of will and attention, the wallet of the universal memory of her previous manifestations suspended on its end, its flap locked shut with the All-seeing Eye of Horus and of Freemasonry, the Eagle of Scorpio on the lower pouch denoting the cycle of sexual and bodily forces leading to the chain of living organisms and astrological release of higher vision spores through material existence.
The phases of the Moon are contained emblematically in second trump, after the Magician’s trident (card one); they form The High Priestess’s crown. The cube that she sits on is Reality, also the cube of Space—e.g., what actually exists—as well as the basis of all subconscious activity. The scroll in her lap is memory itself. Her robe, flowing out of the picture, is a creationary stream vibrating in lunar waves of consciousness (see below).
The Magician’s union with the High Priestess converts her into the Empress (trump three)—she is now luminous intelligence via the cosmic and garden energy of growth and organization. The Empress wears the zodiac in her crown, for she is genatrix of all mental images.
The Lovers (trump six) represents our two modes of consciousness in self-conscious, subconscious relationship to each other and in mutual harmony and union.
The Hanged Man (twelve) is suspended in a reversed state of submission and the self-surrender, the ultimate stance of the adept.
The Death card (thirteen) oversees the eradication of old, defunct ideas, systems, and institutions as well as the cells in whose nuclei they were retained. New subconscious ideas are implanted in the nuclei of fresh cells, their pattern propagated in the tarot series and embodied in the Hanged Man, leading to a new personality, a new conception of life and death.
The Devil (fifteen) is in fact a caricature of the Angel who oversees The Lovers. In this trump, Adam and Eve templates have been replaced by a tormented, contrived man and woman in chains, representing what happens when subconscious and self-conscious attention are turned away from each other and become trapped in the obstinacy and stubbornness of false sophistication and materialism.
In The Tower (sixteen) they become falling figures, tumbling headfirst after the shock of the lightning-flash of revelation spontaneously transforming old ideas of reality and knowledge: the materialistic notion of matter and form as the sole ruling principles of existence. The Tower, revealed to the modern world collectively on 9/11, is the bastion of false science and power, traditional propaganda, and a mistaken attachment to pure will.
In truth, all the cards are projections and transformations of one another, a single primordial scene merely altered in its key or perspective to show a different aspect of it in a symbolic cosmic procession. The series itself then functions as an initiation.
The Angel in The Star (seventeen) is pouring radiant Cosmic Energy through the five senses and extrasensory nodes, conduits of sensation and subtle experience; these rivulets flow from her pitchers into the pool of universal consciousness and cosmic mindstuff.
In the Moon (eighteen) a shellfish emerges from the mindstuff as a symbol of the early stages of conscious unfoldment. It begins on a path which rises and falls through blue distances indicating planes of dream and trance consciousness, traversing the cultivated fields of general knowledge, past the wolf and dog (representing wild and tame versions of animal mind), past two towers marking the boundaries of the known universe, ascending in cosmic time despite many valleys along the way, a locus that corresponds to periodicity and vibration and that demonstrates how, at an advanced point in our development, even our failures and ignorances will perform at a higher level than our earlier peaks and exaltations.
The water in this Star and Moon pool spouted initially out of the robes of The High Priestess. It will eventually fill the ocean on which the coffins of three-dimensionality float across The Judgement (card twenty), wherein human beings arise from bare boxes into the ecstasy of higher dimensional experience all around them. They now understand the collective nature of universal consciousness, its illumination dissolving their delusions of separation.
When Case gets the water flowing out of the Priestess’s robes into the stream of unconsciousness that travels behind the entire hierarchy of the Greater Trumps, he triggers a subtle but profound recognition of the relationship between unconscious psyche and unconscious cosmos. He unifies us in cosmic consciousness—as long as we suspend disbelief long enough to let the trumps ripple through our imagination and the spirits of tarot engage and entertain us.
The twenty-first trump (and twenty-second card), The World, represents “the perfection and end of the Cosmos, the secret which is within it, the rapture of the Universe when it understands itself in God. It is further the state of the soul in the consciousness of Divine vision….” The trump’s dancer as she becomes the dance is the Magician again, returned as a naked androgyne, her single “As Above, so Below” wand twisted into twin tridents conducting multidimensional vectors. The zodiacal figures of Taurus and Leo, a closed set representing the cycles of eternal return in the Wheel, open outward to release realms beyond nature, beyond the night sky.
The Zodiac: A Life Epitome by Walter H. Sampson.
Sampson casts a gigantic interior zodiac that fills in the twelve signs generously, fractally, and in relation to the hidden nature of ourselves and the cosmos. His old-fashionedness of approach and style is actually a positive, a virtue, as the book has a formal and luxuriant flow, weaving a portrait of living archetypes in deep concordance.
The Zodiac was the text that Ellias Lonsdale used to teach astrology to my students at Goddard in the mid seventies, over the objections of myopic literary faculty who broke out in sudden academic scruples when faced with the possibility of astrology on the curriculum, though otherwise, pretty much anything else they fancied was fair game (see Out of Babylon for the milieu of the time).
Sampson belies their conservatism, for he is more traditional and educated than most of them were, as he explores an advanced holistic mythocosmology and karmic depth psychology under the aegis of the zodiac, thus lays the rootwork for all later “family (and other incarnate) constellations.”
The Planetarization of Consciousness: From the Individual to the Whole and The Astrology of Personality by Dane Rudhyar.
Rudhyar locates the self and consciousness in relation to the collective symbolic realms of zodiacal fields. As a mathematician of archetypes, he grasps the core nature and psychic hub of our planetary and personal heliocentricity, with orbits and subcycles inside and outside the Earth’s trajectory. That is, he visions the planetary bodies in the context of the emergence of humanized personalities as cosmic, biological, and cultural functions. Heavenly orbs function as proxy triggers for personal identities and states of incarnate “being” imbedded deep within creation, as creatures manifest the algebra written simultaneously in the sky and in their own egoic trajectories of individuation, all of which is stamped by the macrocosm on their souls at birth.
If this sounds complex to the point of gummed up and unintelligible, that’s how it should be, for astrology is far more complicated than astronomy, containing in its basket not only all of astronomy, astrophysics, and all infra and ultra astrophysics yet to be born, but all of psyche and all of culture and society too, while (at the same time) establishing their essential and vital relationships to one another. In fact, the traditionary sciences of alchemy, astrology, Ayurvedic medicine, numerology, etc., are exponentially larger than the conventional sciences that they encompass (like astrophysics, chemistry, conventional medicine, calculus, etc.), because the former are set up to operate in any civilization on any planet, hence are inclusive of all levels of the archetypes, whereas the latter are special, situational applications of the their forebears and isolated corollaries or patternings.
You can build bridges, collide subatomic particles, read genomes, and explode ordnance with conventional Western technoscience, but you can’t actually see the functional causal, acausal heart of the universe or generate a technology that is not ultimately destructive and dysfunctional to human hopes and dreams. In the end, only traditionary science accounts for the concealed entirety of creation.
It takes a certain genius to interpret and convey the ongoing dynamic relationships between atoms and stars, cells and planets, psyche and society—so whatever functional astrology you might learn from Rudhyar, and whatever function his astrology thereby has, he also teaches something deeper: the emergence of identity and self from time, of shape from timelessness, of cosmos from the unwinding springs of eternity.
Rudhyar is an unabashed, Nobel-level traditionary scientist.
Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition; The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age; The Rosicrucian Enlightenment; and Theatre of the World by Frances A. Yates.
Throughout the Renaissance, science was wrapped around the hermetic carousel in every imaginable way. Even today we are practicing magic that we are not aware of, speaking in the voice of Hermes, even as Hermes back then was speaking symbolically for Egypt, Atlantis, and their forerunners on all planes as well as for sciences and technologies yet to come.
Yates is a brilliant historian and theoretician of these magical distinctions and, although an academic rather than an occult adept, she traces a critical locus through the development of esoteric knowledge, capturing how Copernican theory arose in the context of Astral magic and continued thereafter, surprisingly, to be developed in the context of an emblematic geomancy whereby the inner sky remained as crucial and critical as the mere external and exoteric heavens. This conflation was as active for Kepler and Newton as it was for Copernicus and Bruno. They were all magician-scientists, astronomer-priests
Knowledge and its mnemonic systems in the Elizabethan era were based in magical and talismanic formulas evoking images, signs, seals, characters, voices, sigils, signatures, etc. Science was not just information in the modern sense of data or “bits” and empty pedantic definitions but an alive, magical scientia engagement with nature.
The occult city of Hermes Trismegistus and Tommaso Campanella’s City of the Sun were in fact templates for the crowded Renaissance cities in which the arts of puppetry and stagecraft and machine-activated props and theatrical devices were widely practiced and perceived by the populace as if magically animated by spells, charms, and kabbalistic operations. The hoi polloi didn’t know the difference between a catapult and an air spirit. Because no ontological distinction was recognized, the two magics were fused together unknown and unknowingly such that one was lost in the murk of bogus occultism and the other was systematized and sanitized into sterile physicomechanics.
But they come from the same embryo and placenta, and only now, after we have eradicated the hermetic tradition as superstition and quackery, are we beginning to recover the meaning of that City of the Sun, its Solarian citizens, and its forfeited or dormant alchemical chemico-engineering—in solar and alternative energy, in homeopathic and other vital medicines, in new alchemical and biological transmutation, in psi phenomena, in radionic and Selfic wireless machines, and in new magical solar villages like Damanhur (located outside Turin in Italy) and various communes and healing centers rural Oregon, Arizona, and New Mexico (for which Sedona may be the pop reference point but is not nearly ground zero).
In Theatre of the World, Yates relates the various geomantic magics and alchemico-astral machineries of John Dee, Robert Fludd, and Vitruvius to actual pulleys, trigonometric tools for surveying, fortification methods, weapons, and stage devices. Fludd’s mechanical singing bird and thunder-producing machine were solely mechanical, as were Vitruvius’s analyses of motion and acoustic theories, but these were indistinguishable from the Temple of Music or a harvest of gold from mercury, antimony, and lead in an alembic because in that world at that time everything that was functional and productive was both metaphorically magical and scientific. Science was merely one of the empirical modalities of legenda and Magic (see Michel Foucault, Les Mots et Les Choses below).
The Rosicrucians were an invisible brotherhood that either did or did not exist and, if they did (or perhaps either way) they held the secret key to codes that linked science and magic. At the time of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), the Brothers of the Rosy Cross were a controversial, hypothetical, and weirdness-provoking group of agitators. The various competing politico-religious factions of the time were unsure of either the R.C.’s divine lineage and royal allegiances or whether they were true visionaries or rabblerousing imposters.
Mathematician René Descartes, arriving in Paris in 1620 at the time of a rumored R.C. “coming out” (of which he had been previously unaware) made himself widely visible, presenting his visible person to all his friends “who needed no other argument to convince them that he was not one of the Brotherhood of the Rosiscrucians or Invisibles; and he used the same argument of their invisibility to explain why he had not been able to find any of them in Germany.” So declared his biographer in 1691.
Yates considers it “one of the highlights…of this extraordinary subject when Descartes shows himself to friends in Paris to demonstrate that he is visible and therefore not a Rosicrucian!”
Though I make direct and indirect references to this historian all through my writings, my major references to her wonderful historiographies are in two projects: The Continents which I wrote in 1968-1969 at the time that I read Giordano Bruno, and Martian Homecoming at the All-American Revival Church written in 1972-1973 when I was involved in The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. And I return to her in the early eighties for her disclosure of astromancy in The Night Sky.
Magick in Theory and Practice by Aleister Crowley.
Crowley doesn’t just posit or make a wishful case for magic(k). He assumes without hesitation that magic is legitimate and universal, as much so as physics—in fact, it is a corollary of physics, the corollary wherein “every intentional act is a magical act.” Thus, MITAP is an unapologetic bible plus a textbook for how to conduct magical operations and use the energy of the universe for your own, even selfish and narcissistic goals.
Does it work?
That’s not the right question. Does anything work? And how could you know unless you tried it? And how could you try it with the sincerity necessary for a real shot unless you already believed? And how else do you get the inertia of the universe working for you? The universe!? Yes, the entire universe
There is no way to try Crowleyite magic on spec. You just have to do this stuff and rate your results according to your own “reality” and performance standards. The experiments will never pass double-blind muster, but then they don’t have to. They simply have to satisfy the prerequisites of the magician: “Every intentional act is a Magical Act…. Every man and every woman is a star. That is to say, every human being is an independent individual with his own proper character and proper motion…. Every force in the Universe is capable of being transformed into any other kind of force by using suitable means. There is thus an inexhaustible supply of any particular kind of force that we may need…..”
“There is a single main definition of the object of all magical Ritual,” Crowley proclaims. “It is the uniting of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm.”
After reading this primer, try Crowley’s 923-page autobiography, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography, edited by John Symonds. In it The Master Therion describes occult ceremonies with students prior to which he told his nervous colleagues, the participants that they might well see gods and entities before the evening was over; Saturn could even bust in—but, keep calm, my friends, these are only illusions.
After some exceptionally frightening and palpable manifestations arrived and kicked over the ritual props, those in the circle could hardly believe they weren’t real beings—perhaps hired actors, plants of the Master Therion.
But they were real, psychically at least; they weren’t thespians, and Crowley knew it—but he wanted people to arrive at that recognition on their own, when they were fully ready, and not to freak themselves out of the possibility.
When overwhelmed with grief at the death of his daughter, Crowley was asked by a disciple why he did not treat it as an illusion since he had advised them all to adopt that position in all such predicaments. I can’t find the episode in the book to relay, though I remember him responding with something like: “But this is a very powerful illusion.”
Crowley advises us also to treat every communication, even advertising on billboards, as messages from our soul.
How else is a disembodied entity to dispatch regular intelligence from so far on high?
While you are at it, you might check out Ritual Magic in England (1887 to the Present Day): The Golden Dawn and Other Magical Orders by Francis King.
An Outline of Occult Science and Cosmic Memory: Atlantis and Lemuria by Rudolf Steiner.
Steiner’s perspective of human evolution and history is located beyond the recognized physical Earth, so it resembles something from Gulliver’s Travels with its shifting shapes and scales of creature bodies. But, at same time, it is probably our most accurate guide to how the Earth and we humans got here—how we descended spiritually through the frequencies and zones of the cosmos in different pre-incarnate shadow-forms and densifying vibrations.
There are only remote and absurd images for our unknown esoteric history, so Steiner’s mythocosmic journey works as a symbolic stand-in for our lost occult past. He captures not the much-chronicled ascending evolution of inanimate matter into life forms, minds and, nations, but its antipode: the interior descent of spirit into substance.
Without the urgency of consciousness to evolve and manifest, there would be no partner for matter. Steiner assumes that a higher phase of the universe has incarnated in substance, traveling through ulterior dimensions and worlds and disparate materialities of landscape to get here, to become sentient and then conscious—even as molecular matter complexifies up through nature to meet spirit.
Prior worlds, not constructed of matter in the same way as this one is, looked quite different from the Earth, and we beings, en route phasally toward Earth incarnation, looked totally different in them too.
We have forgotten who we were by becoming it at another level; that is, by evolving into this human form externally, we have expressed and manifested ancient forms and worlds and nonphysical dimensions that are lodged in us internally, far deeper than our cells, though ontologically at their basis. These same worlds reincarnate in us again and again ontogenetically, as cosmogeny recapitulates both ontogeny and phylogeny (see my version of this maxim of Steiner in Embryogenesis).
The anthroposophical meta-sci-fi cosmology is almost certainly true in some esoteric sense, even if its worlds were not really planets and we were not men and women on them in the ordinary sense.
The Nature of Substance by Rudolf Hauschka, translated by Mary T. Richards and Marjorie Spock.
Perhaps there should be a more elegant and luminous text on this critical topic than this plodding translation of Hauschka. However, in its apparent absence, this will have to do. I leaned on The Nature of Substance heavily in my depiction of the pre-biotic Earth in Embryogenesis, as it gave me something more subtle and complex than just the usual gathering of chemical properties from arrangements of protons and electrons (which are interstitial enough).
The overriding premise of Hauschka is that simple: life—vitalistic essence, animation, even intrinsic intelligence—must be present in discrete raw forms in molecular carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, iron, tin, lead, mercury, silver, gold, and the like. These properties and qualities then get translated into the constituents of complex proteins, life forms, personalities, and cultures. Hauschka attempts to identify and specify them, one by one, in their elemental and primordial manifestations.
At North Atlantic Books we published a companion work to Hauschka in the eighties: Edward Whitmont’s Psyche and Substance: Essays on Homeopathy in the Light of Jungian Psychology. Dr. Whitmont emphasizes the archetypal aspects of vital essence as they get expressed in mind-body constitutional types. Their corresponding homeopathic medicines which, when potentized from dilutions of the same substances, release those qualities as curative virtues into psychosomatic human disease gestalts.
Both are texts in an undiscovered library, perhaps lost on Atlantis or at Alexandria, of the esoteric sciences of alchemy and biological transmutation
“The Theatre of Terrestrial Astronomy” by Edward Kelley.
I whimsically include this manual as a stand-in and placeholder for the entire alchemical opus. One could substitute A Form and Method of Perfecting Base Metals by Janus Lacinius Therapus, the Calabrian, or any of the writings of Paracelsus. I have curated sections of many of these in my anthology The Alchemical Tradition in the Late Twentieth Century, the last iteration of Io’s original alchemy issue.
The mystery of the metals (minerals), their phenomenological characteristics, medicinal and mutational virtues, and chemical/herbal operations is endemic and specific to a certain time in our Earth history and Western culture when all of these matters could be viewed and investigated simultaneously. Alchemy was a living art in which the Earth was asked to yield its spiritual and scientific secrets at the same time and as the same thing because that’s what they were: one living microcosmic body and experiment. Scientific work on nature was simultaneously an operation on oneself (in the East, add the breath, chi, and the internal alchemy of personal development).
Alchemy is simultaneously totemism and chemistry and, in being both, confers vital and shamanic gifts at the same time as it feeds the roots of technology and chemico-physics.
Kelley’s landscape has a sheer lost beauty as he celebrates the Green Dragon devouring blue serpents in a vessel, the Lion biting the Sun in the face so that the soul of gold is separated from its body and flows down in droplets, the winged child sails by, the Moon lies on its back in black water, the Phoenix bites its breast to provide drops of blood for its young. These things just don’t happen anymore, certainly not in the same way.
Unancestral Voice; Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry; and History in English Words by Owen Barfield.
Barfield’s work is a mega-complicated legacy and at the same time, to some degree, an homage to Steiner, but it is also its own thing. I consider OB a difficult read, but one can’t get the goods from every honest author on demand. Barfield’s difficulty is both a test and an advantage, as he pushes the frontiers of understanding, pushes them toward intuition of a new thing that was not previously revealed as he cultivates a new way to reveal it.
Barfield not only posits that consciousness must exist first for matter to exist but he fights off all manner of reductionism that opposes that viewpoint, bringing his celebration of spirit into unexpected places and recapturing a God who has been stolen by the scientific and religious authorities to serve their own purposes. As a practicing lawyer, Barfield presents a brilliant, idiosyncratic brief against the dominant scientific materialism of his time, and he wins a humanistic judgment of logic and hope.
The Primacy of Perception by Maurice Merleau-Ponty translated by James Edie and Signs by Maurice Merleau-Ponty translated by Richard C. McCleary.
You could begin phenomenology chronologically with Edmund Husserl, but I prefer the lusher and more erotic Merleau-Ponty. Even his name has the lightness and dance of epistemology. I love the way that MMP digs inside of history, art, perception, ideology, and belief systems, and makes his philosophy and ideation from scratch. He picks away at conventional explanations of things, unraveling pat and facile observations, fashionable Marxist and existentialist maxims of his time (with a tweet at Jean Paul Sartre); he shows how everything has living roots, endlessly reactivated in the primary flow of impulses through the nervous system, through structures in the brain, through preexisting images driven by history.
Merleau-Ponty does for philosophy and psychology what Claude Lévi-Strauss does for totemism, ethnoscience, and social kinship, what Noam Chomsky does for language—he discloses the source, the ingot radix before it is splayed into consensus and familiar forms, into the disguises of lineages and concepts. And he does it with wit, gentility, and joie de vivre.
Man on His Nature by Sir Charles Sherrington.
The is the book of how we work—the pathways and neurophenomenology of us in the simplest, most accessible terms. We and the planet are a single coevolution of a single vast complementary body and transpersonal mind. Thus we should expect that the E. T.’s, should they ever arrive, will look like their planets of origin, spun through an alien glass darkly in the same sort of operation. Vide:
•“There is no ingredient in bodily life which is exotic. Its chemical elements are among those commonest on our planet. Its whole is redolent of the Earth, whence it was dug…. If the vertebrates be a product of the planet, our mind is a product of the planet. Its senses each and all gear into the ways and means of our planet, which is its planet. They are fitted to it, as a fish’s body to water…. Ours in an earthly mind which fits our earthly body….
•“The body of a worm and the face of a man alike have to be taken as chemical responses.”
•“Between these two, perceiving mind and the perceived world, is there then nothing in common? Together they make up the sum total for us; they are all we have. We called them disparate and incommensurable. Are they then absolutely apart? Can they in no wise be linked together? They have this in common…they are both of them parts of one mind. They are thus therefore distinguished, but are not sundered. Nature in evolving us makes them two parts of the knowledge of one mind and that one mind our own.”
•“We can regard the cell’s outward surface as a mosaic of a million chemical poles attracting to it and retaining what can dovetail with their pattern and enter the electrical construction. Its outer surface also leaks like a sieve allowing molecules to be expelled and drained away when done with.”
•“The multi-cellular organism stood for a change, in so far, from conflict between cell and cell to harmony between cell and cell. Its coming was, we known now, pregnant with an immense advance for the whole future of life forms upon the planet…. Evolution has constantly dealt with the relation between bodily and mental as more than mere analogy. It is altruism as passion.”
•“The eye’s parts are familiar even apart from technical knowledge and have evident fitness for their special uses. The likeness to an optical camera is plain beyond seeking. If a craftsman sought to construct an optical camera, let us say for photography, he would turn for his materials to wood and metal and glass. He would not expect to have to provide the actual motor power adjusting the focal length or the size of the aperture admitting light. He would leave the motor power out. If told to relinquish wood and metal and glass and to use instead some albumen, salt and water, he certainly would not proceed even to begin. Yet this is what that little pin’s-head bud of multiplying cells, the starting embryo, proceeds to do. And in a number of weeks it will have all ready. I call it a bud, but it is a system separate from that of its parent, although feeding itself on juices from its mother. And the eye it is going to make will be made out of those juices. Its whole self is at its setting out not one ten-thousandth part the size of the eye-ball it sets out about to produce. Instead it will make two eyeballs built and finished to the one standard so that the mind can read their two pictures as one. The magic in those juices goes by the chemical names, protein, sugar, fat, salts, water. Of them 80% is water.”
That’s just about the life mystery in a nutshell.
Process and Reality by Alfred North Whitehead.
The poet Ed Dorn said that the big word in that title is “and,” and he’s right. “And” is the tough part: getting from one big concept to the other (and back) without losing most of the baggage en route while traveling either way.
Whitehead demonstrates that much of ultimate consequence that really happens in any given world-age is invisible to the actors of the time, camouflaged in the background of their culture and its unexamined conceits. Then he proceeds to dig into our own unexamined background, wherein he finds a process creating reality that we miss daily.
ANW says, “…the remote actualities of the background have their own specific characteristics of various types of social order. But such specific characteristics have become irrelevant for the society in question by reason of the inhibitions and attenuations introduced by discordance, that is to say, by disorder.”
The big words there (for me) are “attenuations” and “discordance.” Then:
“A society does not in any sense create the complex of eternal objects which constitutes its defining characteristic. It only elicits that complex into importance for its members, and secures the reproduction of its membership.” The key phrase there is “eternal objects,” but don’t underestimate the elite subtexts of “membership” and “reproduction.” “Reproduction” implies a photocopy-like passivity of object transfer but also hints at an urgency to click the shutter. Or maybe it is the “memberships” that are reproduced.
What are eternal objects? “The things which are temporal arise by their participation in the things which are eternal. The two sets are mediated by a thing which combines the actuality of what is temporal with the timelessness of what is potential. This final entity is the divine element in the world, by which the barren inefficient disjunction of abstract potentialities obtains primordially the efficient conjunction of ideal realization…. By reason of the actuality of [the] primordial valuation of pure potentials, each eternal object has a definite, effective relevance to each concrescent process. Apart from such orderings, there would be a complete disjunction of eternal objects unrealized in the temporal world. Novelty would be meaningless and inconceivable.” And:
“Eternal objects in any one of their modes of subjective ingression are then function in the guise of subjective novelty meeting the objective datum from the past.”
Novelty, as the poet Charles Olson blasted to the uncomprehending mob at the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965, is the key to the universe and to Whitehead’s system, and is the precise measure as well of the poem:
“‘Creativity’ is the principle of novelty. An actual occasion is a novel entity diverse from any entity in the ‘many’ which it unifies. Thus ‘creativity’ introduces novelty into the content of the many, which are the universe disjunctively. The ‘creative advance’ is the application of the ultimate principle of creativity to each novel situation which it originates.”
So does novelty come flying out of the background to astonish us? Is novelty the prop and pillar that hold up the background, astonishing us into compliance? Or is novelty the thing that brings it down, pillar and prop, all the king’s horse, and all the king’s men?
And it must still be always the background, the background always.
Most of Alfred North W’s conceits and distinctions and cause-and-effect pairs continue to elude me. However, as they drift at the fringes of my ken, I get that he is on a radical edge and that what lies beyond it, like ultraviolet light beyond our visual range, is super-authentic, is in fact a taste of, to quote the Kinks, the real “reality.”
It is not simply or easily understandable, but you hear the footsteps of the serious consideration of the universe by the species mind, our species mind, as we are stirred and inspired to take ourselves and our words and deeds seriously and to weigh each proclamation and demand that we make upon reality and society. That is Whitehead’s gift: strength, clarification, wake-up call, and cosmic imprimatur. We must weigh in, and the weight with which we strike must be equal to the weight of the thing with which we strike as well as what we are striking against, and that strike itself must contain the cumulative substantiality and eternal time through which it has come into being, encompassing what it is, even what we don’t and can’t know.
And even so, the measured weights and measures and precise sememes and etymologies of the words strive to bring us closer.
Anyway who are “we” in Whitehead’s system?
“We—as enduring objects with personal order—objectify the occasion of our own past with peculiar completeness in our immediate present. We find in those occasions, as known from our present standpoint, a surprising variation in the range of intensity of our realized knowledge. We sleep; we are half-awake; we are aware of our perceptions, but are devoid of generalities in thought; we are vividly absorbed within a small region of abstract thought while oblivious to the world around; we are attending to our emotions—some torrent of passion—to them and to nothing else; we are morbidly discursive in the width of our attention; and finally we sink back into temporary obliviousness, sleeping or stunned.”
The Buddha might have spoken likewise if differently.
Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Since you are going to have to deal with erasure at some point, you might as well get it from the master. After all, everything dies and is expunged, elided, obliterated–every library, even the universe itself.
As was the case with Whitehead and Barfield, not everything in this book is understandable to me. Most of it is over my head—way over my head. However, I do come away with a sober understanding of how everything in the world, every meaning positively asserted or borne into being on the wings of human will, contains within it an erasure of the same meaning and figment at another, emergent level.
Erasure is basic cosmic and philosophical hygiene, no matter what else you believe about the universe and yourself, no matter how spiritual or mythological or psychic you propose to be. It is not a matter of ideology or affiliation. You can damn Derrida and consider him irreverent, irrelevant, pompous, and misanthropic. But there is no way around the paradox of thought itself—the role of the unconscious and, of course, finally death, in erasing every mark, even utterance, every memory, every act and thought, every life and the insignia of every life. By capturing that elision, Jacques D. digs a hole around the very large hole that we thought we were digging, and he carries it off whole-hog, the dirt, the digging, and the hole itself.
For all the chatter of us, for all the busyness the world, for all the fervent, intense, aggressive creation boggle and creature agency of the universe, for the collective urgency and hoopla of the hungry and horny beasts, there is finally nothing, nothing at all: nothingness. All will not only be obliterated but is already corroding, obliterating itself in the act of becoming, in the very formulations of its own being. This is the absolute context of all our ambitions, the ambitions of rocks and cell pulps and punks.
In a sense, Derrida has taken the Freudian unconscious (see below) and exported it from the role of a utilitarian neuro-medical device, a mere operational metaphor that was forged to pseudo-scientize psychology, and made it into the absolute outcome of all therapies, all sciences, all systems—all nouns, all verbs.
But he is not actually excavating the Freudian unconscious at all in the end; he is propounding that Freud himself merely skirted the edges of unconscious meanings, touched upon the shock wave of a far vaster obliteration, a black mirror of all.
The Freudian unconscious slit a fair-sized gash into Western culture and philosophy and the Western ego, but Derrida’s erasure obliterates additionally the offices, academies, curricula, epistemologies, cities, cultures, and dyads in which the unconscious ceremoniously holds forth like some sort of supposed professor emeritus and immortal humanitarian doc. Derrida is saying: it not only is unconscious; it is unconsciousness. “Is” is not. Finally and forever.
The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness and Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields: Metaphors That Shape Embryos by Donna Haraway.
Donna Haraway gets at the subtle history and meaning structures that underlie cultural thought constructs and unbidden ideologies, especially those of science, gender, and interspecies relationships. She does so in these texts and her other, better-known ones. Cyborgs, primates, hominids, dogs, and gastrulas each contain complex symbolic histories within their humanized order, the deciphering of which yield clues to our own nature, our unexamined agendas, and especially our impregnable fortresses of scientific proof and barren concreteneess—where we come from as well as where we are going (or, more properly, blindly stumbling):
“The airplane is an instrument in a series of subject-transforming technologies. The dogs who come out of the belly of the plane are subject to a different social contract than the one they were born into. However, not just any Puerto Rican stray is likely to gets its second birth from this aluminum womb.” And so on:
“No, this is ontological choreography, which is that vital sort of play that the participants invent out of the histories of body and mind they inherit and that they rework into the fleshy verbs that make them who they are. They invented this game; this game remodels them. Metaplasm, once again. It always comes back to the biological flavor of the important words. The word is made flesh in mortal naturecultures.”
One of these naturecultures is the science industry, and one of its shape-shifting factories is embryology: the metaplasm of the genetic and biological field. This is where Haraway began her journey, not as a feminist deconstructionist but as a historian of the twentieth-century embryology of Ross Harrison, Joseph Needham, and Paul Weiss, in Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields. The embryo is her model for organicism and hierarchical organization with emergent properties (see Kauffman below)
“[L]ife is process, not substance. It involves vast numbers of dynamic strctures interacting in time and space; life consists of orderly, complex, group behavior whose limits are defined by rules of order empirically unearthed. The idea of limits leads to that of levels. Appreciation of hierarchical organization remains the fundamental difference between organicism and any form of reductionism. Without the notion of hierarchy it is impossible to develop an adequate expression of wholeness because the systems concept is the embodiment of the ‘experience that there are patterned processes which owe their typical configuration not to a prearranged, absoluted stereotyped mosaic of single-tracked component performances, but on the contrary, to the fact that the component activities have many degrees of freedom, but submit to the ordering restraints exerted on them by the integral activity of the ‘whole’ in its patterned system dynamics’” (sic “absoluted”; quoted material from Paul Weiss).
CFAF was a stanchion throughout my writing of Embryogenesis; it is how I discovered Haraway’s work in the eighties before she became a gender star slash eco-feminist academic icon. We later republished this Yale University Press OP title at North Atlantic with a new preface by Donna. Elsewhere on this website, under “Three Outsider Approaches to Embryology,” see my advertisement for Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields as co-created with DH.
Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (and many other books, polemics, and jeremiads) by Slavoj Zizek.
The fact that Zizek is a fraud, a clown, and a ham is irrelevant; in fact, I suspect that Z himself would own up to these kitsch personae and deceits as high praise, even essential in some way to his posits. In another sense, he is just a high-energy Slovenian artistic and intellectual genius busting out of the shackles and restraints of Tito’s bureaucratic communism, celebrating the blowing out of ideological shit, smashing all the pseudo-temples of the West and the Second World, of capitalism, communism, environmentalism, humanism, fascism, etc.
Yes he is sort of a Marxist, sort of an anarchist, sort of a self-declared Lacanian (turning the pleasure principle as much inside-out as much as upside-down), as, at the bottom of it all, he means to explose the lies of these extant standing belief systems too, particularly the ones that reign throughout pop academic America at all shades of the political spectrum. As a meta-Lacanian, quasi-Marxist, he has as little use for naïve anti-capitalist memes as for blustering neo-Reaganisms and militia-style fascisms. That is, he gets to the bottom of the languages, ideologies, and disingenuities by which we disguise our actual and usually exploitative greed and stratagems—which are far more exploitative than we acknowledge. Even 9/11 is not a no-brainer:
“If we simply, only and unconditionally condemn [9/11], we…appear to endorse the blatantly ideological position of American innocence under attack by Third World Evil; if we draw attention to the deeper sociopolitical causes of Arab extemism, we…appear to blame the victim which ultimately got what he deserved…. [E]ach side is one-sided and false…. [T]he choice between Bush and Bin Laden is not our choice; they are both ‘Them’ against Us.
“[America must] finally risk stepping through the fantasmatic screen that separates it from the Outside World, accepting its arrival in the Real World, making the long-overdue move from ‘A thing like this shouldn’t happen here!’ to ‘A thing like this shouldn’t happen anywhere!’ This is the true lesson of the attacks: the only way to ensure that it will not happen here again is to prevent it from happening anywhere else.”
‘Fat chance of that!’ is my subtext.
There is no easy way out of the bleak universe that Zizek proposes because it is, ultimately, the universe, the universe of the Big Bang and matter itself, the universe of tedium, boredom, and a birthday surprise—as the more salient point is: he is having a fine time of it, heralding the sheer discordant fact of his own existence and the existence of any of this splatter instead of eternal nothing (or a universal totalitarian state). The break-up of Yugoslavia is plenty to keep him occupied and smiling for pretty much the duration, inside the deafening mute background noise and debris all the same.
Remember, Z says, referencing Lacan, it is not so much that masturbation is sex with a fantasy object; it is that sex is masturbation with a partner.
In fact, Zizek always trades in the comfort of the symbolic act for the desperation and remorse of the so-called “real” event or he adopts the feigned slash or strike that is, finally, itself only a symbol. I am not sure whether he proposes a way out of this jungle or even thinks that there is one, but the tour under his charge is as delightful as it is macabre and horrific.
The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan.
I was very young when I first read this book and, though it didn’t ascend to as much of a cult book for me as it did for many of my friends at the time (1965), it got across to me something that I had never even considered through all my prior supposedly lofty and elitist education packed with countless facts, memorizable details, and stamp-of-approval explanations of history and the universe, but all of them solely worshipping content content content—that the method (medium) through which information is conveyed is at least as important as the information itself (the message), and probably more so.
McLuhan widened my perspective to recognize the hidden meanings and unacknowledged agendas and propaganda of technology.
What would Mac-L have to say, if around now, about the subtexts of email, Facebook, and Twitter, the intrinsic violence and decadence of the media themselves, which are unleashed among texting and my-spacing teenagers? What do the electronics, the formats, and the devices of all machineries tell us about their meaning and use and hidden agendas? Who are the aliens, and who are the actual robots, them, or us?
What would Deconstructer of the Medium disclose about the slurpy, untagged switchero from the Gutenberg Galaxy to the Kindle Galaxy?
When getting information of this sort, especially iconic post-modernism, it is always best to consult the founder, even one who lived before the epoch in question. McLuhan is still the seer of the possibility that we are presently undergoing. I suspect he will be so in the twenty-second century too if anyone is around to record it.
Migraine by Oliver Sacks.
By exploring this neurological condition thoroughly, Sacks opens a window into the mind itself—the way we think, the way we see, and how neural pathways interact with psyche and the phenomenological landscape as well as with their own evolutionary morphology, as they seek an algorithm to render universal chaos sensible and livable. Sacks is drop-dead brilliant on the relationship between the phenomenological and the neurological realms and at locating the thresholds among the pathological, the psychotic, the merely exotic, and the psychedelic.
I have dealt with this book so thoroughly and recently in Migraine Auras: When The Visual World Fails (with major parts of my work derived directly from Sacks) that I will not go on further here except to quote a bit from Sacks’s 1992 retrospective look at the opening of his own 1970 book:
“[Migraine] is neither grave nor factitious, but a morally neutral, recurrent yet essentially benign condition….
“Migraine, of course, is not just a description, but a meditation on the nature of health and illness, and how, occasionally, human beings may need, for a brief time, to be ill; a meditation on the unity of mind and body, on migraine as an exemplar of our psychological transparency; and a meditation, finally, on migraine as a biological reaction, analogous to that which many animals show…..
“[A]t certain ‘critical’ times, the small stress will cause a physiological imbalance which, instead of being quietly corrected, leads rapidly to further imbalances, overcompensations, playing on each other, rapidly simplifying, until it reaches that end-point we call ‘migraine.’ Perhaps migraine itself, to use a favorite term of chaos theorists, can itself act as a ‘strange attractor,’ pulling the nervous system, at certain times, into chaos.”
Here the disease under treatment is a disease and medicine both, as well as a nervous-system probe.
Metaphors of Vision by Stan Brakhage.
Brahkage orates on perception, artistic creation, and the path of vision (in every sense of the word) as well as his own spiritual and individuating journey. Rough, outrageous, impatient, even petulant and bullying, he makes it clear and makes it stick that we each need a way to see and a way to live. If you take what is given to you passively by the culture, you will die spiritually and aesthetically in every sense. The only freedom, the sole reprieve is to create the universe before the authorities impose their universe and “vision” on you:
“This is an age which has no symbol for death other than the skull and bones of one stage of decomposition, and it is an age which lives in fear of total annihilation. It is a time haunted by sexual sterility, yet almost universally incapable of perceiving the phallic nature of every destructive manifestation of itself. It is an age which artificially seeks to project itself materialistically into abstract space and to fulfill itself mechanically because it has blinded itself to almost all external reality within eyesight and to the organic awareness of even the physical movement properties of its own perceptibility. The earliest cave paintings discovered demonstrate that primitive man had a greater understanding than we do that the object of fear must be objectified. The entire history of erotic magic is one of possession of fear thru holding it.” And:
“Of necessity I become instrument for the passage of inner vision thru all my sensibilities into itself external form…. If my sensibilities were otherwise oriented, revelation would take an other external form.” (Some of Brakhage’s punctuation has been altered by me to make the quotations work in this text.)
See New Moon for my narratives of meeting and then engaging with Stan (see also my 1973 interview with him in Io/14, Earth Geography Booklet #3: Imago Mundi).
Language, Thought, & Reality by Benjamin Lee Whorf.
We don’t think discerningly enough about language itself—the way our thoughts chug into morphophonemic affixes and units—or the degree to which these syntaxes shape our view of the world and beliefs, even our culture and technology; for instance in handling the transition from indefinite time to definite time, or going through phases of subjunctive and conditional realities, or getting provisionally to the past and the future and their relationship. Whorf, perhaps naïvely, took the notion of language-mediated mind-sets too far into misplaced concreteness (to use a Whiteheadian trope), so the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis (to which he has half-claim) has been debunked during the half-century or so since it debuted. Yet, in a hypothetical deep-reality, tribal game board of Planet Earth, BLW launches a fresh and vital Hopi (and Amerindian) universe out of the sheer non-Indo-European parse of its phrases and how they cut up space and time into things that are not, in an IE sense, space or time.
“In [the] Hopi view,” Whorf declares, “time disappears and space is altered, so that it is no longer the homogeneous and instantaneous timeless space of our supposed intuition or of classic Newtonian mechanics…. [Hopi metaphysics] imposes on the universe two grand cosmic forms…MANIFESTED and MANIFESTING (or, UNMANIFEST) or, again, OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE. The objective or manifested comprises all that is or has been accessible to the senses, the historical physical universe, in fact, with no attempt to distinguish between present and past, but excluding everything that we call future, but NOT MERELY THIS; it includes equally and indistinguishably all that we call mental—everything that appears or exists in the mind, or, as the Hopi would prefer to say, in the HEART, not only the heart of man, but the heart of animals, plants, and things, and behind and within all the forms and appearances of nature in the heart of nature, and by an implication and extension…in the very heart of the Cosmos itself. The subjective realm (subjective from our viewpoint, but intensely real and quivering with life, power, and potency to the Hopi) embraces not only our FUTURE, much of which the Hopi regards as more or less predestined in essence if not in exact form, but also all mentality, intellection, and emotion, the essence and typical form of which is the striving of purposeful desire, intelligent in character, toward manifestation—a manifestation which is much resisted and delayed, but in some form or other is inevitable…. It is in a dynamic state, yet not a state of motion—it is not advancing toward us out of a future, but ALREADY WITH US is vital and mental form, and its dynamism is at work in the field of eventuating or manifesting, i.e. evolving without motion from the subjective by degrees to a result which is the objective.”
Whorf’s discussion of the punctual and segmentative aspects of Hopi has lingered with me at many levels after I first discovered it in the mid-sixties, and I have given a lot of thought to the ways in which these transformative syntactic units dice and sort the universe in going from a single instance of an event or motion to a repeated sequence of that same. Note the torquing, vibratory, rhythmical, rotative transfer of energy and meaning between the punctual and the segmentative:
“pa’’ci it is notched; paci’’ita it is serrated
“wa’la it makes one wave, gives a slosh; wala’lata it is tossing in waves, it is kicking up a sea
“ri’’pi it gives a flash; ripi’’ta it is sparkling
“ti’ri he gives a sudden start; tiri’rita he is quivering, trembling
“ti’li it receives a slight jar; tili’lita it is vibrating.” (Anglicization and punctuation at my discretion, as I don’t have the right characters on my keyboard. See The Night Sky and The Bardo of Waking Life for further discussion of the punctual and segmentative aspects of Hopi.)
Whether, as has been implied by some enthusiastic fans, the Hopi language would get humanity to faster-than-light spaceship travel sooner than English is not so much a practical question as a koan and riddle for future Whorfians and aerospace and astral-space engineers.
The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.
I started on this, my first “real” book, in sixth grade because I had been in psychoanalysis since age eight and I wanted to know what it was about, as none of my friends shared this mode of weekly meetings with a doctor to discuss life events and dreams. Freud was the main author on my analyst’s book shelves, and this was the one title that jumped out at me.
At that stage of my education I could grok little of the book’s real concepts, but I could travel happily dream by dream through the patients’ offerings and their interpretations by the master, which was enough to keep me happy. Though I stubbornly read every word, I eagerly looked ahead to each next dream italics and then participated in the decodings like puzzles or games. The sense of mystery and wonder I felt at that age has an immaculacy that I can’t regain; it was like Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, only a real thing in the world and applicable to daily life. It was the freedom and permission to take hold of a magical world.
At each re-reading of Interpretation of Dreams thereafter, through my early thirties, I found that I was able to gain a deeper level of understanding.
I have discussed this book in great depth elsewhere—notably in Planet Medicine: Origins (the chapter on Freud) and The Dreamwork, a long essay I wrote for Richard Russo’s Dreams Are Wiser Than Men. What I would emphasize now is Freud’s virtuoso navigating by symbol and transposition through the unconscious to its energetic basis, through the torrents that shape dark and unknown figures in their often-violent flow and upsurges into consciousness.
Dreams are the immediate canvass on which the unconscious splashes its unadulterated dynamics, expresses its intrinsic paradoxes, and exposes its ultimate contradictions and riddles, which make up the frayed substrata underneath all our behavior and philosophy. Dreams are also the safety valve through which even the undreamt aspects of the unconscious release apparitions of uncertain origin that are too frightening to encounter in waking life and that also (on the other hand) comprise volcanoes too powerful to contain. Dreams are their compromise status or process, tolerable or at least bearable for the ego (to the degree anyway that they do not progress into nightmares), yet transgressive enough to allow in quanta of forbidden unconscious contents that the physics of the psyche require.
Freud proceeds slowly and thoroughly, capturing the many aspects of the dream process, showing complete cognizance and mastery of historic dream theory, representing primarily the immediately prior decades of investigation preceding his own revolutionary 1900 synergy.
The various successive editions of The Interpretation of Dreams function as nothing less than an integration of the entirety of scientific and psychological research in the context of the evolution of a new theory that incorporates and resolves all prior decipherings. Freud discards fallacious missteps and places each prior attempted analysis or interpretation in a novel light and context, both in relation to each other and in relation to his new X factor. Thus he achieves a revelatory synthesis that nothing leading up to it presaged.
Others had intuited isolated fragments of X but did not grasp the holistic elegance and profundity of the dream process, in part because dreams were mostly viewed as shards of nonsense, random and incomplete fragments, and/or arbitrary releases of primitive and insignificant mental wool-gathering. Scientists had pretty much come to consider them uninterpretable or at least not worth interpreting in any rigorous scientific sense. Most early dream researchers made the nineteenth-century mistake of focusing too much on consciousness, logic, expressed motives, and acts of reason, and thus they fooled themselves into believing that some elements could just be discarded as mere by-products of the real.
In fact, anything that exists has an energetic basis and a role to play in nature, and understanding it is indispensable to understanding the systems that it affects. There is no extraneous or meaningless activity in the universe; all are wrapped in cause and effect: new causes, new effects. Even the caws of crows. Furthermore, the unconscious, the nonsensical, and the contradictory are now far more influential than the revealed and logical—that is now a full-blown twentieth-century conceit.
In bringing empirical analysis to dreams, Freud came to the same conclusion as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin before him: all energy is the effect of a cause; all motion has kinetics and thermodynamics necessitating the next motion and release of energy, and then the next, and so on. And every mass that moves, including the infinitesimal masses of thought, solves a prior equation and creates the conditions for the next unsolved equation.
Freud writes with the confidence and magisterial eloquence of an innovative physicist or biologist, foreshadowing Albert Einstein in the burgeoning of a twentieth-century logos that begins to embrace an absolute and actualized universe as opposed to the proxy universes that Mediaeval, Renaissance, and Victorian intellects imposed on nature in their lame attempts to salvage the moral and social bases of their societies. Within the first thirty years of the twentieth century, Freud and Einstein blew all that up, and the pieces are still flying apart into new universes as well as coming together in different gestalts. The overall kerfuffle has lead to abstract art, nuclear weapons, Marxism, information theory, existentialism, artificial intelligence, punk, and virtual reality.
The Interpretation of Dreams lies right in the middle of the twentieth-century revelation. It has a special ring of authority as well as the unmistakable flair of genius and inspiration. It is a book on a binge, a binge delighted for having confronted the sybil and won, celebrating the victory with new treasures from the cache, page after page. Its author acknowledges that this kind of insight falls to a man’s lot at most once in a lifetime.
Once he toggles the first clue of each patient’s dreamwork, Freud is usually able to unravel the whole edifice. As he deciphers each dream’s construction and its mechanism, he elucidates the relative influences and roles of both recent ephemeral events and deep-seated, internalized (cathected) traumas and crises in providing the dream with material to produce its grand, grandiose theaters . The more intense an experience, the more likely it is to work its way into the dream, but also the more recent (even if indifferent) the experience, the more it is available and convenient to provide the perfect ingredients to combine with older intense elements to weave a somehow-credible plot and dream fabric (the dreamer is remarkably credulous, so the emphasis is on the curious relevancies and links of weave itself rather than its sheer credibility).
Likewise, Freud derives a method (mostly free connection) whereby the dreamer can excavate his or her own constructions and reveal the relationship between those recognizable features of their dream (the people, landscapes, and events familiar to him or her) and the unconscious and forgotten drives and suppressed and forbidden information that he or she cannot face consciously or does not want dredged up—hence (of course) the often-disturbing dream rendition of them.
Freud goes deeper—much deeper—as he traces the exact algebraic operations and metonymies whereby dreams create their spells: sublimation, condensation, displacement, regression, representation, conversion, reversal, etc. He exposes the complex and devious subterfuges by which dreams fuse their disparate materials and create adventures for the gullible dreamer under the permissive regime of sleep, i.e., unregulated by the censorship of the superego.
Prior to his dream theory, Freud made a singular quantum leap in conceptualizing the nature of the unconscious and its libidinal dynamics. He understood that pure biological (neurogenic) energy lies behind jokes, slips of the tongue, neuroses, and the dream-formation, and that dream energy and image-generation have their genesis in the superego’s suppression of the id, in illicit wishes and desires including erotic fantasies; in restrained bursts of anger and rage that would violate standard decency as well as the mores of the society; in the sheer terror of consciousness itself as it pushes into unendurable and unnamable zones of a limitless perilous universe.
Where Freud falls short is not where his critics claim: in the oversexualization (i.e., libidinization) of all psychological processes. After all, actions and thoughts are driven by libidinal (e.g., psychokinetic) energy only in its most fundamental form, which is both meta-sexual and pre-sexual (even non-sexual in ordinary terms).
Where Freud falls short is that he does not recognize the full contents of the unconscious, which includes transpersonal, cellular, phylogenetic, psychic, and cosmic material. These are also driving the dream turbine by profound and subtle states of libidinal energy (see Jung and Reich below). Thus I believe Freud excavates only one set of dream interpretations of which there are countless, but he gets down the syntax and dynamics of the greater set that encompasses all of them.
Claude Lévi-Strauss discovered there are almost limitless versions of any myth, all authentic (see below), and dreams belong to the same open set of unconscious taxonomy. Myths are collectively assembled and vetted dreams (with visions), and dreams are myths and psychic journeys of individuals. I have discussed this meta-element of dreaming and dream interpretation often, most recently in 2013.
Nonetheless, Freud got his one level of dream interpretation in place so solidly that he provided the requisite clues to the rest and to oneirological syntax itself; he found the bridge whereby the dreamwork accesses and mediates other realms too. Plus, I think in most cases he provided the terms of primary interpretation for any dream, the slate onto which is pasted the ongoing subterfuge of the life of the dreamer.
Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality by Sandor Ferenczi.
This proposition in this book—that genitality and eros arise as a neurotic memory trace of our evolutionary journey from one-celled marine life to conscious land animals—could be all wrong (we will never know), but it is right in principle (and through a glass darkly).
I keep returning to my own version of Ferenczi’s trope with its slightly bizarre and neglected theory of the universe and the human psyche. In fact, when I just revisited my glosses on “Thalassa” in Embryogenesis; Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings; and, most recently, 2013, and then checked the original against them, I realized at once that over the years I had gradually morphed and reinvented the man, emphasizing his cosmic and esoteric glosses at the expense of his core theory with its genital blatancies (even as I put more of a hermetic Sun into Teilhard than he engendered himself in The Phenomenon of Man).
In Ferenczi’s world-view, everything in the universe was perfect in its original null state in the great silent void when all was at rest and in a bower of peace before matter and then mind rattled, peeked in, barged in, and rudely disturbed and interrupted the seamless doze.
As matter subsequently stirred from darkness into light, as life then emerged from molecules into cells, as fish and proto-amphibians emerged from the vast seas on the land and into the light, as consciousness awakened from unconsciousness—unwillingly and against enormous internal resistance—the universe’s great cosmological dormancy was shattered, again and again, each time more profoundly. One catastrophe after another, one trauma after another followed, generating the violent, neurotic landscape of nature and consciousness we all suffer and petition for relief.
In Ferenczi, life is libidinally driven, in acknowledgment of Freud’s psychodynamics. Eros is the original driving force behind matter’s awakening and the subsequent birth of consciousness. Sex organs (and ego) are propagated in the process, hence a theory of genitality.
Primitive reptilian land animals, in desperate attempts to return to their original sanctuary, Thalassa, the oceanic womb, mount and try to penetrate each other, and in the process, in Lamarckian mode, grow complementary phalluses, vaginas, and uteruses—the aggressors becoming males, the receptors females. This represents (Ferenczi) “the striving to restore the lost mode of life in a moist milieu.”
The trauma of sexual development and the catastrophe of being forced out of primordial slumber and the nurturing sea recur with each new organism physically and psychologically, as it leaves the embryonic state (and/or womb) and develops out of latency through the primacy of childhood into the sexual maturation of adolescence, wherein all of these prior traumas and catastrophes are recapitulated violently and sequentially in the ego:
“…in the act of coitus and in the simultaneous act of fertilization there are fused into a single unity not only the individual catastrophe of birth and the most recent catastrophe to the species, that of dessication, but all the earlier catastrophes since life originated as well; so that we have represented in the sensation of orgasm not only the repose of the intrauterine state, the tranquil existence in a more friendly environment, but also the repose of the era before life originated, in other words, the deathlike repose of the inorganic world.”
Here are the Ferenczi’s catastrophes and their ontogenetic recapitulation:
•Origin of organic life (maturation of sex cells).
•Origin of one-celled life forms (maturation of germ cells in genitals).
•Beginning of propagation by sex (fertilization).
•Marine life forms (embryonic development in uterus).
•Recession of ocean, adaptation to land (development of embryo in utero).
•Organs of copulation (primacy of the genital zone: “the male member and its function appears as the organic symbol—albeit partial—of the foetal-infantile situation of union with the mother and at the same time with the geological prototype thereof, existence in the sea”).
•Ice Ages and Coming of Man (latency period).
Catastrophes all! At least in the Freudian sense they are, for if we take Freud at his word, latency without consciousness is the eternal womb of peaceful repose (Thanatos). Sexuality and minded awareness break into that state urgently, heedlessly, neurotically, and traumatically. In fact, sexuality is the etiological basis of consciousness, as it reiterates its disruptive biological and psychological journey from latency through maturation with each individual.
But no one and no thing wants it to happen. It is thrust onto the biological world as a verdict and life sentence for solely random (thermodynamic) reasons.
This is about as nihilistic premise as imaginable, for it suggests that life should never have occurred and is a mistake, a disease—but in Ferenczi’s hands it doesn’t come across as particularly woeful because it is posed in the reassuring voice of an elder psychotherapist, offering clinical assuaging in transference and the shared knowledge and succor of our plight.
Ferenczi is too early and too caught up in Freudian epistemology to realize the full apocalyptic implications of his theory. He does not foresee what a human race, deprived of purpose or destiny, will become and what horrid acts it will commit, as Freud didn’t either, though he wrote Civilization and Its Discontents, the true intellectual companion of Thalassa, late in his career, in which he declared, quite unambiguously, ‘Life is not to be enjoyed; life is to be endured’ (the actual words are the casting of his biographer Ernest Jones).
Ferenczi does take Freud to the dark conclusion that the master intimates—neurosis and disappointment are inevitable unto death—but he avoided its implications as culturally too radical and extreme (and not conducive to a new therapy market, an earnest and enthusiastic profession opening up shop in Vienna). Ferenczi told Freud (despite his misgivings): your theory of psychology leaves no choice; it is back through the womb to the sea, and back through the sea into the eternal slumber of inert matter. No other escape and no other ultimate cure.
Oddly as Ferenczi implicitly promotes the ecstatic peace of nothingness against the hubbub of manifestation, he is also unknowingly slouching toward the Tao and Buddhist emptiness. Yes, it is a simplistic Western version of the dharmic premise—that nothing would have been better than anything—but it also has the Western optimism and chin-up humor that, once over the hump of its own resistance to being, consciousness will make something of itself.
As noted, I have played with and glossed on the innumerable implications of Thalassa throughout my writing, as it is an incredibly pregnant theory, with far-reaching corollaries, if one examines them in terms of their full range of cues, foreshadowings, and intimations. I have explored these at length in Planet Medicine, The Night Sky, and Embryogenesis—for they are irrepressible, and they come up again and again, as I try to wrangle my way through the equation: Why something rather than nothing?
And how does that “something” emerge through the mess that birthed it: Big Bang, entropy, predation, territorial imperative and all?
My most recent book, 2013, contains a long piece early on, querying the universe’s awakening from its great eternal slumber—why it was asleep and what the terms and consequences of its awakening are, what they must yet be. I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t had this book assigned by Don Pitkin in my anthropology class at Amherst College forty-five years earlier.
The Alchemy of Healing: Psyche and Soma by Edward C. Whitmont.
Whitmont discloses an almost axiomatic but overlooked dynamic of all medicine and healing, applicable to psychic and shamanic systems as well as hi-tech pharmaceutical and surgical acts: the unconscious projections of the physician have a major, often decisive influence on the treatment’s outcome.
The unacknowledged and unresolved negative, or sometimes pseudo-heroic fantasies of the most cheerful and optimistic doctor, disguised even to himself among his complex personal and social personae, are introjected into the patient along with the above-board and recognized treatment, and those projections may metastasize psychosomatically in the form of unintentional hexes that convert the disease into a deadlier form or at least keep the patient from getting well.
Furthermore, the very invulnerability of the typical medical persona—the doctor unconsciously (or consciously) viewing himself/herself as an expert, savant, or savior—projects shadows of these impossible roles or identities. The physician can’t possibly deliver the miracles that his role elicits, and his hubris, flaws, failures, consequent guilt, compromised self-image, and rage against the universe for being placed in this untenable position translate into pathological spores that may encyst symbolically and/or malignantly in the patient.
At the same time, any positive transformative energy—humility, empathy, and love projected unconsciously and from heart (by even the most incompetent physician)—can turn out to be curative at an archetypal and holistic level. The so-called divine wound that the shaman absorbs in his initiation, like the dark revelations which the psychotherapist encounters in his own analysis with another therapist (the unearthing of his private traumas) as a requirement of his training, can also be transmitted positively and curatively to the patient through transference.
This psychosomatic medicine may sometimes be even more effective than the actual designated treatment.
Whitmont has excavated a prime law of healing and disease that should be included in any text on the nature and practice of medicine—the unconscious domain of the relationship between doctor and patient, even when psychotherapeutic and psychosomatic medicine are not explicitly being practiced. He writes:
“A great healer once remarked that ‘a physician never enters the sick room alone, but is always accompanied by a host of angels or demons.’ Whether the healer comes with angels or demons will be determined by the degree of the healer’s conscious awareness of his own wounds and impulses toward wounding and by his ability to process them, to potentize them to their symbolic essence and hence not be carried away by them nor to project (and projectively) induce them in his patients….
“The surgeon scrubs to free himself of infectious material he might introduce into the patient. Yet ‘infection’ is not merely a physical, bacterial or viral phenomenon. It is a field dynamic that occurs in every human interaction and deserves special attention in the healing dyad because of its potential to confuse the project and even inject iatrogenic pathology.”
Not only physicians but shamans, psychics, priests, and spiritual healers of all ilk and religious persuasions hold within themselves the potential power to heal (or hex) through the paradox of disease and personality fragmentation.
Not only does all medicine have an unconscious side, but also all science and purported science. Medicine is only truly therapeutic, science only accurate long-term to the degree that either confronts its own ghosts, demons, and contradictions.
I have discussed Whitmont’s theory extensively in Planet Medicine: Modalities. I consider this book required reading for any study of medicine, psychic healing, bodywork, or psychoanalysis.
Living Your Dying and Sexuality, Self & Survival by Stanley Keleman.
“People don’t remember being born. They just know they are alive, and it seems they have always been alive.”
That simple and obvious apothegm nonetheless encapsulates the existential profundity of Keleman’s work. Like the hedgehog SK knows one thing well, but it is a major thing: that life is an evolving process, an experience which builds and grows out of itself and feed and changes from its own intrinsic charge
“We have given too much weight to how we feel about our actions or intended actions as a measure of self-value. This makes us disloyal to our own process….
“Most of us live our life according to our image of the social milieu, copying values and patterns of action. But it is our own living process that brings social orders into being, and persons with a sense of inhabiting them….
“We are not flesh with a spirit or genetic code dwelling in us. We are an event that sustains a particular life style. We are not a machine with a mind or with a spirit. We are a complex biological process that has many realms of living and experiencing. The body is a layered, ecological environment of ancient and modern lives, just like our planet’s strata of life…. Life is old, very old, and we are old in it. The continuum of existence we experience has no discrete beginning.” And:
“The act of living is a reward itself.
“Does that sound strange? It is a natural by-product. Ask people why they like being alive. They just like it.
“If not, people die like prisoners of war die; they just lay down and die. Young and strong, yet you couldn’t wake them up.
“It is an important thing I am saying—most people who enter your office do not recognize that the fact of their existence is satisfying; there is nothing to look for, even though they may be in an existential pain situation.”
I quote this Keleman hymn—for he does chant and bob like a rapper or rabbi—from a series of transcriptions that he gave me in 1978 for creating a piece in North Atlantic’s Ecology and Consciousness anthology:
Keleman is involved in the process of our being—not ideas or concepts (like love or death) but how we live ourselves into meanings and create a world out of biological sensations. In that regard, we must live our dying too, for death is not an abstract state or a name. It is another experience to be understood through undergoing as a process. There is no other explanation or meaning or metaphysics attendant to it. We must live it through, even as we live throiugh our sexuality and the nature of our self, in order to understand and be it.
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”—Archilochus, eighth century BC. Getting this one thing right is a necessary first step toward reclaiming body, mind, and psyche.
The Fifty-Minute Hour by Robert Lindner and People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil by M. Scott Peck.
Many therapists have tried to write meaningful case histories. The 2008-2010 HBO show In Treatment, starred actor Gabriel Byrne as a psychoanalyst in the depths of the game. Realistic and sophisticated in its creation of fictional therapies, it was also flawed in the way in which it tilted into a romantic soap opera by having its main character slurp his own narcissistic struggles into the stew.
Yet both Lindner and Peck give authenticity and depth to their books by opening their cases to similar (for lack of a better word) confessions. They are both, however, more accomplished therapists than Paul Weston, the fictional shrink played by Mr. Byrne. And their accounts embody clinical, not literary fiction.
Psychoanalytic theory can seem abstract, academic, and intellectual, until it is translated into actual lived events. I emphasize these two works because each in its own way gets at the complications of transference and counter-transference and the ambiguities of the unresolved psychological relationship between ideology and neurosis.
Few have presented case histories as poignant and profound as Robert Lindner. In The Fifty-Minute Hour he offers two client accounts in which extreme belief systems (compulsive fascism in one instance, compulsive communism in the other) get interpolated into a neurotic psychopathology such that the patient uses the political ideology to confirm (and protect) the disease pattern, even as he concomitantly uses the libidinal force of the pathology to inject fervor into his politics.
Most ailments, and certainly psychological one, are like Chinese handcuffs in that pulling hard in one direction to get out of them only tends to intensify their grip. Even more to the point, psychopathologies are multicausal with many-layered interlocking co-factors, and they protect their neuroses and psychoses brilliantly, with just about the cleverest, trickiest, and most devious ploys and counterfeints available in the human universe. It takes an equally brilliant psychotherapist to get inside the mental clockwork and separate the moving parts such that the patient can witness his own self-deceptions and camouflaged actions and perhaps even own and then change them.
You can’t just take apart a neurosis linearly, and you also can’t talk a neurotic person out of an extremist belief system by rationality and logic. That is all too clear in today’s inflamed political environment: crazy people, to use that trope, are committing heavy deeds of political mayhem and terrorism, with cascading effects. But then Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin were crazy too, and that didn’t stop them from accomplishing quite real things and wreaking very palpable damage.
Peck addresses this dilemma head-on in People of the Lie, as he interrogates the nature of deep narcissistic psychopathologies that lead people to damage or kill friends, family members, and/or strangers, usually because they do not accept or allow any reality or needs outside of their own. In other words, Nazi doctors as well as serial killers are epitomes of narcissistic, sociopathic “evil.” In fact Peck’s chapter “Toward a Psychology of Evil” could serve as a title for the entire book, and then some.
Peck considers the absolute nature of evil and its lack of susceptibility to traditional psychotherapeutic methods. Finding that he cannot “cure” or ameliorate “evil” patients, he alters not only his approach but his diagnosis. He considers the possibility that evil, whether a psychopathological condition or a cosmological, moral character flaw, must be dealt with as an intractable visitation like possession by a demon. It requires a militant response lest otherwise innocent people be harmed. Here evil and psychopathology converge.
It is not sufficient to excuse a “criminal” as mentally incompetent or insane; after all, potential victims must be protected too: the demon or psychopathic behavior must be deterred. With that obligation Peck makes use of exorcism as a curative technique, recruiting the necessary priests, and he gets surprisingly successful results. The act of addressing demons in “evil” patients and driving them out actually works; it makes them susceptible to normal psychoanalysis, which previously did not penetrate their narcissism.
This is also a return to shamanism with its objectification of the intrusive object (pathology) and demonic characteristic (see Lévi-Strauss below). I discuss this aspect of People of the Lie and its implications at length in 2013.
The Fifty-Minute Hour closes with a famous case, “The Jet-Propelled Couch.” In it Lindner’s patient has invented his own dazzling universe, complete with planets, civilizations, and dramas, complete with 200 chapters, 2000 notes, a hundred-page glossary, 82 full-color maps, 23 maps of planetary bodies in four projections, 31 maps of land masses on planets, 161 architectural sketches and elevations, 12 geneaological charts, a 200-page history of the empire over which he rules, 44 folders of academic papers on biology, chemistry, metabiology, parapsychology, history, anthropology, and engineering in the galactic system. And this is not even a complete list.
Despite his best efforts at objectivity, Linder gets sucked into his patient’s tales and finds himself looking forward to his visits so that he can find out what happened on these worlds during the previous week. In fact, the patient abandons the “psychosis” before Lindner does but feels obliged to keep the pretense going for the doctor’s benefit, to entertain and assuage him. This makes “The Jet-Propelled Couch” a classic tale of counter-transference out of control. It is also a borderline science-fiction masterpiece (some current accounts in fact identify the patient as the recognized sci-fi author who later wrote novels under the pseudonym Cordwainer Smith). Lindner concludes:
“It has been years since I saw Kirk Allen, but I think of him often, and of the days when we roved the galaxies together. Especially do I recall Kirk on summer nights on Long Island, when the sky over Peconic Bay is bright with quivering stars. And sometimes, as I gave above, I smile to myself and whisper:
“‘How goes it with the Crystopeds?’
“‘How are things in Seraneb?’”
This haunting tale contains a mystery that even the temporary closure to which Lindner brings to it doesn’t lay to rest. Although I can find no confirmation online, I have heard that the author committed suicide just a few years after this account and at the height of his psychoanalytic career.
And how goes it with the Crystopeds?
Psychology and Alchemy; Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious; Symbols of Transformation; and Civilization in Transition by C. G. Jung.
Jung took the ground system of Freud and opened it to the vast and diverse archetypal intelligence of the universe; e.g., the seeds of creation (cosmic and psychic) and the multiform multidimensional currents that flow through us. I have written about the amazing C.G. Jung much more fully in Planet Medicine: Origins and The Dreamwork in Dreams Are Wiser THan Men and in many other texts over the years—plus, I have chronicled my discovery of Jung’s opus as a young man in New Moon (a mandala from one of Jung’s patients in Archetypes provides the image for the book’s cover). Still, the Jungian system is a big baby, a huge cosmology, and earns as many variant exegeses as one can bear.
Here I would emphasize the boundless and all-embracing enterprise that Jungian thought is. It is a philosophy and a religion even more than it is a psychology. Beyond the scope of any mere therapy, Jung provides an entire spiritual and epistemological system, embracing Neo-Platonic and hermetic currents but also exponentializing them through the portals of science and Platonic categories into the foundational rubrics and domains of civilization. Jung not only advances the formulas of analytic inquiry and symbolic decoding that Freud innovated, but he applies them in realms beyond dreams and personality development, extending his explorations to all of culture, all of symbolism, all of history—the whole rigmarole.
Whereas Freud stuck to the societal confines of Western culture and its hyper-simplified views of animal life, non-Western mores, and the entangled evolution of bands and tribes, Jung identified cosmic and transpersonal materials in their own terms. He operated from the perspective of the whole biosphere; the pancultural Earth; the far reaches of history back through Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Stone Ages; and the Creation as a divine, superconscious entity, yet while applying the same psychodynamic logic and methods.
To read Jung is to explore ancient civilizations, diverse religious and psychospiritual traditions, motifs of art and mythology, lineages of gods and goddesses, modes of transubstantiation, UFOs, synchroncity and acausal connection, alchemy, Nazism, the shadow and its negative capacities, the numinous self. All of these manifestations are archetypes given shapes and motifs through acts of individuation.
The archetypes are pre-formed categories of thought and morphologies that stamp matter itself with emerging identities and spawn psyche and its consciousness. If consciousness is libidinal, it is so not in the sole sense of survival instincts and sexual drives but in terms of the original, divine energy of the universe: Hesiod’s Eros.
Once you enter into Jung’s opus, you will never depart it—some part of your future witnessing and inquiry will always be Jungian. You will never exhaust his encyclopedia of symbols, forms, enantiodromias (states generated by and producing their opposites), and potential new glyphs, ceremonies, and cosmic seeds, for he has created an entire aesthetics and science of inquiry, blending consciousness with not only the personal unconscious but the collective unconscious and the synthesis of all collectively unconscious domains (human, terrestrial, galactic, and creationary), hence applicable anytime, anywhere. Freud addressed consciousness and ego in their sufficient libidinal and energetic states, working off the random debris of a Darwinian universe and preserving only what they can’t refute or dispose of; Jung liberated consciousness/ego to a singular individuation in their role as actual soul-maker and co-creator of the universe.
That is why his psychology is also a religion and a metaphysics and why it functions not only as a therapy but a spiritual awakening. It played that role for me surely, translating the psychiatric dialogues of my childhood into imaginal discourses with a numinous and supernatural world. The symbols of dream interpretation became the spirits of hidden nature, and even my childhood bed-wetting got interpreted anew under the works of the alchemists, as they classically sought the experiment that separated consciousness from matter, that liberated awareness and insight from urine and dung. And this is also an example of how a Jungian psychoanalysis works.
The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, & The Origins of Culture by William Irwin Thompson.
“The planets are not hunks of stuff out there,” declared meta-historian William Irwin Thompson, “but nodes of vibration that resonate in multiple dimensions that enfold themselves into one another in patterns of complex recursiveness in which Sun, Moon, and Saturn are also modalities of Earth.”
Revisiting Steiner, Jung, Lévi-Strauss (among others), while continuing the neo-Platonic lineage, Thompson seeks the fragments and still-melting ingots of a history of consciousness, a derviation of the emerging forms behind the phases of human cultural evolution. While many, even spiritual, even structural authors focus exclusively on objects and their light, Thompson is a genius at catching shadows—shadows that are shadows because light casts them, shadows that are shadows because they are primordial things that have not yet come to any light.
Excavating science as another modality of myth, WIT does not denigrate but elevates it to its true unresolved revelatory state, for myth is science too, and history, for it unveils the lost annals and ledgers of the soul and of the numinous entities and primordial archetypes that have seeded inside human consciousness.
Though Homo sapiens with his hubris makes ongoing disaster inevitable in the clash between the power of its own symbols and gods and the forces of pagan nature, the evolution of consciousness is an irresistible and indomitable dialectic that will continue to yield societies, mysteries, and revelations. Thompson is a cheerleader, even if a grumpy one for the counterculture and the New Age, on which he somewhat awkwardly foists himself as an elder, but a justifiably lyrical one at that:
“Myth is the history of the soul. Lest we think that Isis and Osiris, or Jesus and Mary, are only stories from the past, we should look around us to see that a new chapter is being written in our own time. Whatever names these two lovers take, when they come together it will be like the touch of matter and antimatter, the passing and consuming passion of our world. In the origins of civilization is the overture to its end.”
Yes, we are trapped in a conceptual prison of matter and antimatter, existence and its negation, without knowing how we got here or seeing its footprints in the Bronze Age or on the parchments of the scientist-priests. WIT is the sleuth and mythographer of this occasion, and he unabashedly claims personal connection with the angels and archangels while blowing off the New Age psychic universe as “inferior subintelligences.” That takes both chutzpah and guts. If he is delusional, he is delightfully so, and who would turn away an imperious leprechaun from L.A.?
The Myth of Analysis and Revisioning Psychology by James Hillman.
Hillman tours all the big Jungian sites—the shadow, the psyche, the anima, the soul, sexuality (Eros), the creation of the self, transference—in the process adding his critique of neo-Jungian oversimplifications of the master, with an especial scan over how the modern materialist literalization mill has ground up the Jungian archetypes to prim functions, mere merchandise and commodities. He sounds a warning about the elevation of psychology (psychopathology), and thus Jungian analytic psychology, to the status of faux authorities and then even sciences or religions, which undercuts their real depth acuity and capacity to work with living souls or between systems without any ideological or academic allegiance. Jung’s opus is not interesting as the fare of academic departments or professional symbolism; he is valuable only as live soul-work.
To read Hillman is to earn a second journey through Jung, without perhaps the rich Jungian scenery or treasured visits to exotic lands but with a guide who prompts you on how to understand the architecture and customs and make them useful for yourself—e.g., to not get mired in archetype worship or fixation on the myth-laden categories.
In a sense, Hillman liberates Jung, at least on one plane of understanding, for a celebration and a revival of Jungian themes against a modern propagandistic world. He points out, for instance, that we are more sexually obsessed than called for by our actual desires or needs. We invent a Jungian metaphysics that is more decorous, inflated, and exaggerated than anything we can use or integrate therapeutically; thus we cut ourselves off from our own real souls and our singular paths of individuation. We creatively psychopathologize ourselves beyond our actual pathologies, and we spiritualize ourselves in fictive and superficial realms where our spirit doesn’t dwell. We create fake healings in the name of spirit and in the guise of spiritual quests and of psychological healing and Jungian allegiance. Likewise we are guilty for all the wrong reasons, far guiltier in our self-blame than the actual so-called sins we have committed should entail.
Even with Jungian categories, in fact especially with them, we create anti-Jungian misogynies and bodily displacements. Reading Hillman is the antidote.
I have heard tell that he is a much, much better writer than a healer but, as a writer, he is a stunningly profound proxy therapist, as he turns Jung into a Course, maybe not in Miracles, but the art that each of us gets to practice without permission, apprenticeship, or acclaim—the creation of our own souls.
Working the Soul and The Archetype of the Unconscious and the Transfiguration of Therapy by Charles Poncé.
Poncé takes the basic Jungian logos and wields it on matters such as alchemy, kabbala, the I Ching, Saturn, the nature of time; androgyny and bisexuality; the creation tale of Genesis; therapy itself (and the role of the therapist); compliance with false psychotherapeutic norms; the creation of the psychic body in place of the ego; the separation of the imaginal from the phenomenal; society and the possession of consciousness; the shadow side; and magic and transcendence. He is an unerring explicator of the paradoxes of Jung in the context of the greater hermetic quest that gave Jung his entrée into the soul:
•“[The] humanizing of the archetypes in both psychology and astrology becomes blatantly apparent when we turn to the concept of soul. Invariably, we speak of ‘my soul,’ ignoring the fact that early philosophy spoke of ‘the soul,’ or the anima mundi or world soul. It was believed that the entire universe was contained in such a soul, and that we were each allotted a small portion of that larger soul to work upon in our lives. But where in either psychology or astrology is there work done on the world soul?”
•“What we might have in the figure of Adam is a picture of the germinal ego coming into being in the pleroma of consciousness. That the Adam of paradise represents what will become an important aspect of ego is implied in the fact that he is made in the image of God, and that as God rules over the paradise of the unconscious, Adam too will one day rule over the desert of consciousness existing beyond the Gates of Paradise. In short, the ego that rules consciousness is but the image of God, or the Self, that rules our unconscious.”
•“What the image of Himself reveals to God is the fact that the unity He represents is composed of opposites. Because God, not only in our tradition but in every tradition known to us, is defined as a unity of opposites, the one thing that He cannot know is the experience of the opposites in a divided state. God has the knowledge of the opposites, but not the experiencing of their effect. He has experienced only their peaceful unity. The knowledge that He has of them constitutes a philosophical assumption. In order to experience the true effect of the opposites He must first divide them. That is the nature of God’s blind spot in Genesis, the source of his rage in the Old Testament—this little piece of unconsciousness concerning an aspect of His psyche of which he has had no experience.”
I studied dreams with Charles in the late seventies, and he appears as a figure in both my memoir books (New Moon and Out of Babylon) and in my “Dreamwork” essay, wherein he has the unusual ability to move back and forth between psychological and psychic interpretation without losing the discipline or validity of either. He was the one who decoded for me my childhood dream about a chemistry set and urine in the context of the alchemical seed, revising its primal interpretation when it reappeared in my adult psyche as sizzling rice soup in the “same” toilet bowl.
Freud & Man’s Soul by Bruno Bettelheim.
Simply this: Bettelheim gives us a fresh version of an original Freud in which the soul (seelisch) and individual spiritual development are prioritized rather than the mind and a medico-scientific version of psychoanalysis. Bettelheim’s revision of the English translations of Freud establishes a certain broadness of validity for the “soul” word—which Hillman later merely branded with a neo-Jungian product “code” for the larger public.
Bettelheim proposes that Freud always meant his system to be one of personal witnessing and inner development rather than academic reductionism, but his English translators from the original German preferred to recast him in a rationalist and progressive light.
Bettelheim’s Freud would never have laid the path to or countenanced behaviorism and psychotropic drugs; these are abominations and interlopers as final destinations of Freud’s “soul therapy.” The founder wanted to open our hearts and reclaim our humanity; instead, he was tricked into becoming the midwife of thorazine and surgical lobotomies, as his heavy-handed successors, lacking either therapeutic art or the interior and shamanic qualities required for actual transference, gave up on insight itself as futile, time-consuming, unquantifiable, and way too expensive. They chose to shut down the id with a hammer.
Much the same could be said of the fate of Newton and Darwin. The soul was stolen from their systems, as they were morphed into overseers and progenitors of robots. Bettelheim tries to restore Freud’s original honorable mission.
Ether, God, and Devil/Cosmic Superimposition; Character Analysis; and The Function of the Orgasm by Wilhelm Reich.
Without departing methodologically from Freud’s basic precepts regarding the dynamics joining unconscious material to the threshold of aware, egoic mind, Reich like Jung expanded the concept of libido, resistance, and sublimation; only he took it in an entirely different trajectory, down into the biological realm of the body. Then he placed both the mind and the body in a larger energetic, undulating cosmos, from rivers, winds, clouds, worms, and amoebas to suns and galaxies in their formation. All involve waves of raw orgone—transpersonal, primordial libidinal energy—toward creation, expression, fruition, procreation, and completion.
When human culture with its modes of traumatic resistance gets in the way, primal energy is blocked, and disease and dysfunction follow like birds of prey. As Jung moved toward the symbolic and the archetypal, Reich moved toward the somatic and the physiognomic. Both took Freud in a cosmic direction. It is no accident or stray malapropism through which therapist John Conger subtitled his analytic comparison of Jung and Reich: The Body as Shaow.
Among the key items that Reich intuited were: that all matter follows similar wave patterns and organizing flow based on orgone and that these are seminal to life; that emotional traumas convert into tissue structures and become imbedded as body armor, impeding the flow of life energy and leading to organ disease as well as neurosis; that amiable compliance in therapy or under social situations is often a dull form of resistance, in fact its most intractable and difficult-to-alter stasis; that social situations and cultural taboos continue to actively and dynamically propagate neurosis and armor.
Freud tended to overlook the social aspect from his European provincialism and intellectual myopia, but Reich parallalled Marx in his calling out of functionally criminal socioeconomic laws and hierarchies.
Reich’s opus is filled with brilliant and original observations (note my wide-ranging discussions of his definition of character and development of character analysis in both volumes of Planet Medicine), but my two superhighway shortcuts to his crux are: (one) the way the body is imprinted with, archives, and expresses the mind’s traumas (and vice versa), and (two) the way in which human beings and their thoughts and actions are extensions of the pure activity of all of nature—the Milky Way, the Sun, the atmosphere, and protoplasm.
Reich’s voice is strong, committed, and visionary and, although it would seem that some of his claims are the result of misplaced concreteness and his own biases and mythologies projected into nature, he hit upon crucial, negelcted holistic aspects of the universe: the conduction between matter and life, the character and role of universal energy, and the energetic basis of psychological and somatic structures in the development of personae and the genesis of resistance, character armor, and psychopathology.
When Reich discusses worms and the way that energy flows through them and how they resist or express sensation, saying yes or no by either how they contort their bodies or how they let them stream, he has fused Freud with Blake, touching upon their shared hermetic universe. This is WR at his most idiosyncratic and visionary:
“Offhand, a thundercloud has nothing in common with an amoeba. By observing certain functions in the amoeba, however, we succeed in reaching conclusions that are equally valid for the thundercloud; for instance, there is the attraction of highly charged thunderclouds upon smaller clouds, as compared to the attraction exerted by the amoeba on small bions.”
Because Reich extended his psychological research to amoebas, stars, and galaxies and built machines to make rain and cure cancer using ubiquitous orgone and because he claimed to discern the early phases of a deadly orgone (DOR) attack on America (and the Earth) during the Cold War, he was ultimately regarded a quack and a civil danger.
In fact, this joint albatross of quackery and inappropriate intrusion into politics followed him throughout his career, as he routed his practice from Germany to Scandinavia to Maine, running interference for, in turn, Marxism, anti-Marxism, biological metaphysics, and cosmic machines, always stirring up controversy and trouble and leaving behind burned bridges. He was not a simple figure, for he was both an ecstatic and an angry man. He was ultimately imprisoned for refusing to appear in court in Portland, Maine, to answer charges of medical malpractice and for making false therapeutic claims,. After he died in a penitentiary in Pennsylvania, his books were burned by the FDA.
The real implications of his vision were terrifying to authorities, likely not because they were bogus but because they pointed to something that our culture and world-age did not want to face, and still does not want to face. Reich may not have gotten it exactly right, but he got enough of it to force open a significant crack in a long-barred door.
Modern-day Reichians conduct the same sorts of experiments as Reich, using orgone on climate, clouds, disease, and bodily functions, pretty much with impunity, because the era of Government paranoia on such matters has passed—but these neo-Reichians are apparently missing absolute keys to the entirety of Reich’s whole system and its mammoth scope. It is not enough to do the research as proposed in Reich’s theories and experiments; one also has to see the universe he intuited and attain it through a kind of transcendent vision as well as by its mechanical and metaphorical nuts and bolts. Eventually humanity will get back to the crack and see what really lies on the other side, even if it turns out to be something quite different from what Reich saw:
“ORGONE ENERGY IS PRESENT ‘EVERYWHERE,’ AND IT FORMS AN UNINTERRUPTED CONTINUUM. This continuum varies in different places with regard to its ‘denseness’ or ‘concentration.’ We are still using mechanical terms borrowed from the language of the physics of matter although orgone energy is not of a material nature…. Orgone penetrates all space, including space occupied by solid matter. It penetrates a wall of cement just as it does a wall of steel….”
We are, as Reich prophesied, no longer in the world of physics. But where are we exactly? It is not mysticism. It is science but not a science of this world, not yet anyway.
I consider Reich’s opus crucial to an understanding of psyche, body, and the universe, and thus I devoted a whole chapter to his career and philosophy in Planet Medicine: Origins: “Wilhelm Reich: From Character Analysis To Cosmic Eros.” Yet I also don’t have a clue as to what this is really about. Still I believe in the connection between galactic and human superimposition, and I suspect that orgone is the psychic and energetic manifestation of psychic healing power, prana, chi, and love. Reich might have gone too far to the dark side to recognize that convergence of terminologies, but he almost recognized it, and I still see him in the clouds and stars and the Milky Way across the haunch of the night.
Paranormal Foreknowledge by Jule Eisenbud.
Science—and in particular, scientistic skeptics—has no real answer for the actual, bare psi evidence. Say what else you want, that’s the bottom line here. “All of science is patent pending,” Eisenbud once told me, meaning that, until we get to the bottom of this shit and resolve glaring anomalies that allow some people to remote-view objects, foresee future draws, have foreknowledge of catastrophes, heal with touch and prayer, move objects by telekinesis (TK), and project pictures out of their head onto film (like his famous subject, Chicago elevator operator Ted Serios), we can’t close the book on any universal law, let alone a thermodynamic one. Mind has to be accounted for and dealt with in some other terms than derivation by heat effects, information theory, and quantification of synapses. And mind does not obey ordinary guidelines of space and time or cause and effect.
I am not saying that these paranormal events happen consistently and predictably or that they adhere to even the most meager scientific rules of experimental replicatability, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t occur at all or are not crucial and necessary factors in field equations of reality.
Eisenbud manages to frame this all in a Darwinian-Freudian context with great erudition and irony while providing some delightful ghosts bearing musical instruments. He strikes a balance between “science’s completely irrational rejection of the data of psi (a rejection that has been bred into its very marrow), and the inability of parapsychologists to deal with temporally extraordinary correspondences in a way that takes into account some of the darker implications of their existence.”
Those “darker implications” are, according to Eisenbud (following Freudian logic to its dread conclusion), “a never-ending assault on an omnipresent and protean enemy-by-proxy on a scale that would have been unimaginable to the primitive…[who] first conceived the revolutionary idea that the evil in him could be detached and disposed of as easily as his nail pairings and his excrement.”
See Ecology and Consciousness for my 1972 interview with Jule and Planet Medicine: Origins for my later discussion of his theory and its relationship to voodoo. In the interview Eisenbud spoke with a kind of flamboyant and desperate drama:
“Thoughts alone can kill: bare naked thoughts. Isn’t all this armor of war, this machinery, these bombs, aren’t they all gross exaggerations. We don’t even need them. We kill each other without them…. To put it schematically, and simplistically, and almost absurdly, because we don’t wish to realizes that we can just kill with our minds, we go through this whole enormous play of killing with such, of overkilling with such overimplementation; it gets greater and greater…. It’s a caricature of saying: how can I do it with my mind: I need tanks; I need B-52 bombers; I need napalm; and so on.”
After I mention Walter Cannon’s “Voodoo Death,” he responds impatiently, “Yes, of course, of course. But the whole point is: that there a man deliberately said, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ We mask it. It goes unobtrusively. Which doesn’t make a damn bit of different. What’s the difference whether I do it or streptococci do it. We have cover stories, you see. All science has produced cover stories for the deaths we create….”
Here psychotherapy rejoins shamanism, which was the primal science, religion, and philosophy on Earth. Its antediluvian method may have been magical and psychic (no harm there anyway), but its logic and libidinal drive were emotional, unconscious, and sublimated. Eisenbud’s verdict is not pretty, but the prognosis might improve if we could turn “kill” into “heal” or “love.” Then a thousand years from now, or a million years for now, we will be more than halfway home. Eisenbud evinced no intention of intending to wait around. “Shut this unit off,” he told me. “I’m more than ready.”
Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi by Henri Corbin.
There are many soft, mystical Islams that are afire with seeking the Divine. Corbin’s is perhaps the softest and most mystical, as he turns the worldly mosque and imam into the cosmic mosque with only angelic gatekeepers and thus opens the original vision of Mohammed to a glimpse (even to the eyes of such Western infidels as many of us are).
The book is based on complex and paradoxical relationships as engendered in the world of Islamic theology: a God who knows us as we know him, a God who exists only as we simultaneously recognize and deny him (or even refute him) while being drawn along the path of our simultaneous apostasy and recognition, both potentially ecstatic and visionary, both leading toward his light and majesty.
Corbin’s exegesis of Ibn Arabi petitions the Divine Being through his manifestation in names and symbols and by acts of internal visualization (e.g., creative imagination) of the sacred. He celebrates the epiphany of the manifest world elicited through prayer and devotion. The mystery of our essential being lies solely in the mystery of God’s being and essence, in the secret of his own concealed creative imagination. God is a lonely creature who longs to be known and thus created creatures in order to be known in them. As he causes us to exist, we bring him into being, we cause him to exist. By knowing him, we allow and we elevate him. This is our manifestation of God, our theophany, our hidden divine treasure.
Out of this prophetic theophany, Corbin brings forth Islam, not the Islam known by the current West, the bogus cauldron of misogyny and guerrilla Jihad, but an Islam that contains a deeper jihad, a truly profound divine and cosmic passion that cannot be transmuted into secular immolations and martyrdoms. The only legitimate submission or “suicide” mission is the one into the ecstasy of knowing the divine. Everything else is a misplaced passion. One can see how one martyrdom is so easily “hijacked” (to use the fashionable meme these days) by another, especially when looking for a military edge, likewise a the more explicit and vernacular fervor is misinterpreted out of a subtler, more elusive emotion. The neo-Muslim betrayal of women is also a misreading of the Koran, though either side on this one similarly considers the other to be running a great blasphemy.
The Corbin text is primarily engaged with the formal practice of love and adoration whereby a profound sympathy is struck between romantic love and divine or sacred love such that they can be viewed as exemplars of each other, for the beloved contains an aspect of the Divine, and the Divine offers a unique depth perspective into the source-fount of human love as well as carnal infatuation. In the translated words of Ibn Arabi:
“One of the most subtile phenomena of love is that which I experienced in myself. You experience a vehement love, a sympathy, an ardent desire, an emotional agitation so great as to provoke physical weakness, total insomnia, disgust at all food, and yet you do not know for whom or by whom. You cannot determine the object of your love. It is the most subtile that I have observed in love by personal experience. And then by chance a theophany appears to you in an inner vision. Then this love attaches itself (to this mental theophany). Or else you meet a certain person; at the sight the previously experienced emotion attaches itself to that person (as its object); you recognize that this person was the object of your love, though you were unaware of it. Or else you hear a certain person spoken of, and you feel an inclination for the person, determined by the ardent desire that was in you before; you recognize that that person is your companion. This is one of the most secret and subtile presentiments that souls have of things, divining them through the veils of Mystery, while knowing nothing of their mode of being, without even knowing whom they are in love with, in whom their love will repose, or even what the love they feel is in reality. This is also experienced sometimes in the anguish of sadness or in the expansiveness of joy, when the cause of it remains unknown…. This is due to the pre-sentiment that souls have of things even before they materialize in the sphere of the outward senses.”
The Sufis by Idries Shah.
On Robert Kelly’s original reading list, Shah’s Sufis was my introduction to the Sufi mysteries and still functions as a broad, definitive overview. Rich with parables and teaching tales, it introduces the mysteries of the dervishes, the Islamic grail, and the secret alphabet within the vernacular of speech and scripture. More a compendium of lore and a journalistic travelogue than a sacred book in itself, The Sufis provides an entry to mystical life and it also rediscovers Sufism as part of a super-spiritual, pan-cultural confederacy in unofficial league with Hindu Veda and the way of Zen.
Shah strikes the balance between Sufism as an esoteric quest and Sufism as a way of life that embraces worldly acts of commerce, householding, family-rearing, law, and secular governance. He presents Sufi magic and vision as domestic devotion, continuous training of perception, and a daily ritual enactment of symbolic deeds.
The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi by Andrew Harvey.
This is not merely a book about Jalal-ud-Din Rumi, nor is it a contrived poetic or psychospiritual channeling of Rumi’s voice. Harvey demonstrates that Rumi is alive today and in our midst. He speaks essential truths that we must heed if we are to survive as a species. More than just channeling Rumi, Harvey renders the inner voices of the planet (which Rumi ecstatically channels himself) into a truly modern Sufi vision of transformation.
The above paragraph more or less summarizes what I wrote as a blurb for the jacket of the first edition of this book. Looking back on it, I would add that The Way of Passion, delivered originally as a series of famous lectures that drew increasingly larger crowds to California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco during the early nineties, is a principal stepping stone in Harvey’s development of the concept of sacred activism. By making Rumi timeless and endowing his sacred words with an implicit critique of modernism and its lukewarm, faint-hearted relation to the fire of the heart and inspiration of the spirit, he reinvents his own voice and his own poetry. Through Rumi’s relics, he finds a fusion that—sorry—is more far powerful to me than Rumi’s poems themselves, which have been preciously over-translated, overly sanctified, and capitalistically molded into modernized icons. A ferocious Harvey is anything but precious. He brings Corbin’s Ibn Arabi “version” of Sufism into full passionate, theophanic fire:
•“We are at a desperate moment in human history. The world is in terrible denial of what is actually going on, because people are simply afraid of the level of desperation that they would feel if they faced what is going on. The point is that we have to face what is going on and allow that desperation right to its home which is in Divine initiation, Divine transformation. We have to let that desperation ‘take a torch and burn down’ all our concepts, limits, fantasies, and banal solutions, because it is far too late and none of them are going to work.”
•”There are no solutions to life, but there is an experience of wholeness, of bliss, of being, of the deathlessness of the Divine Self, of Silence in all its multifaceted, diamond splendor that heals all grief, all wounds, all questions.”
•”Mother Teresa isn’t sitting around saying, ‘Jesus is love.’ She is being love, so that you can see Jesus in her. By seeing Jesus in her, you can see that Jesus is real and Jesus does live. The Dalai Lama isn’t simply talking about enlightenment, Buddha, and compassion—he is being Buddha, enlightenment, and compassion. He is enacting these in every gesture, with every look and laugh. Rumi, the man who is asking you this question, is asking you from the place of one who has thrown himself into the fire to become the fire. He knows that all things burn in that fire, and he is asking you not to entertain his question as an intellectual proposition, but to take it in the deepest sense as an invitation to transfiguration. He is impatient, as all sacred ones are impatient, because they see the world burning in illusory fires and want to save everyone, out of love and compassion, from burning in them.”
Again, this is the real Jihad.
The Holy Kabbalah by A. E. Waite.
There are many inroads to Kabbalah; I perversely prefer A. E. Waite to any Jew. Though Waite is reading and interpreting the Kabbalah more as a theosophist than a practitioner of Hebraic traditions, he manages to capture the angelic magic, the gematrian properties of the Tree of Life, and sefira’s nodes of metaphysical power. Waite’s quirky versions of Shekinah, Adam and Eve in the Garden, Lilith, the Serpent, expulsion from Eden, and the perception of the invisible sacred world through the visible regime are each revelatory and contain majesty, grace, and metaphysical oomph.
Waite conveys how our actions and modes of perception contribute toward engendering a second body in a heavenly realm (by a union of male and female elements), a joint or collective self that also encompasses our domestic and community life. This is a sacred rendering of the esoteric law that Mormonism butchered in its elevation of polygamy to the status of eternal-family creation in heaven.
Waite also locates and visionarily hands us the famous flaming sword that God set in place to keep Adam and Eve and their descendants (present company included) out of heaven. He placed the sword at the level of neurons and molecules inside us. That was the trick, and is the trick of all spiritual practice and biblical mythology—a rendering of intrinsic matters as if extrinsic tropes (see Rudolf Steiner). It is in our nervous systems, hearts, and subtle minds that Eden continues to dwell, quarantined by our failure to perceive the true hierarchy of creation and its divine light. We embody Eden and still stare right through it into murk because we are looking in the wrong direction in the wrong way.
It is Waite who blessed me, in my early twenties, with an entry into the Judaism that I had rejected as a child, weaning me from my rebellion against the symbols and artifacts of my ancestors (my immediate relatives were not spiritual, merely Zionist). He did this, in part, by providing discrete sacred images for my daily life, my marriage, and my artistic practice, helping to turn an ordinary, often drab and disappointing world into a household imbued with divine presence and magic. See Book of the Earth and Sky and The Continents, texts that I was writing while reading Waite. See The Bardo of Waking Life for a summary of my lifelong Jewish (or non-Jewish) perspective.
Waite’s Holy Kabbalah, plodding and old-fashioned as it is in its way, gets you into the Kabbalah more authentically than most insider books more groomed for the role:
“In respect of the Garden itself, we learn that the whole world is watered by that mysterious river which went forth out of Eden—meaning the Paradise that is above. It came from a secret place on high, and brought life to things below. This place is symbolized by the letter Beth, when it appears for the first time in Genesis. The meaning is that this letter contains all letters in its womb, even as the river vivifies all things else….”
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.
Yogananda recounts a life and sacred journey replete with incredible encounters, supernatural episodes, and in-your-face miracles. In the course of AOAY you experience, to pick a big one right off, resurrection firsthand:
“‘If you refuse me, I will jump from this mountain. Life has no further value if I cannot win your guidance to the Divine.
“‘Jump then,’ Babaji said unemotionally. ‘I cannot accept you in your present state of development.’
“The man immediately hurled himself over the cliff. Babaji instructed the shocked disciples to fetch the stranger’s body. After they had returned with the mangled form, the master placed his hands on the dead man. Lo! He opened his eyes and prostrated himself humbly before the omnipotent guru.
“‘You are now ready for discipleship,’ Babaji beamed lovingly on his resurrected chela. ‘You have courageously passed a difficult test. Death shall not touch you again; now you are one of our immortal flock.’”
Later on you get to visit the astral universe with full disclosure and no hesitation for lack of belief or flagging faith: “There are many astral planets, teeming with astral beings…. The inhabitants use astral planes, or masses of light, to travel from one planet to another, faster than electricity and radioactive energies…. The astral universe, made of various subtle vibrations of light and color, is hundreds of times larger than the material cosmos. The entire physical creation hangs like a little solid basket under the huge luminous balloon of the astral sphere….” (This description goes on for pages; check in on page 416.)
Autobiography of a Yogi overall reads like a New Testament for new times, told in the first person in our contemporary world. Biblical things transpire; teachers live for hundreds yea thousands of years, the dead return to their teachers from former lives—these are absolutely normal in the Hindu universe with its many planes of being. They are happening in one measure or another right now, even as you read these words.
Yogananda travels back and forth through bardo realms as if they were mere toll gates on mule paths, and we undergo his awakenings, share his fleeting doubts, and are swept into the greater ocean of collective and divine awareness with him.
Many books cover this dharma and territory, but Autobiography of a Yogi has a calm, fireside tone, a loving immediacy, a naïve passion and urgency that take you seamlessly into an ancient universe, far more real than the one being sold to the planet by the West. Yogananda’s voice depicting that universe has absolute humility, total conviction, and the clarity and sincerity of one who sees and so doesn’t have to sell a bloody thing:
“As I maintained a bewildered silence, the saint approached me and struck me gently on the forehead. At his magnetic touch, a wondrous current swept through my brain, releasing the sweet seed-memories of my previous life.
“‘I remember!’ My voice was half choked with joyous sobs. ‘You are my guru Babaji, who has belonged to me always. Scenes of the past arise vividly in my mind; here in this cave I spent many years of my last incarnation.’ As ineffable recollections overwhelmed me, I tearfully embraced my master’s feet.
“‘For more than three decades I have waited for you to return to me.’ Babaji’s voice rang with celestial love.
“‘You slipped away and disappeared into the tumultuous waves of life beyond death. The magic wand of your karma touched you, and you were gone! Though you lost sight of me, never did I lose sign of you! I pursued you over the luminescent astral sea where the glorious angels sail. Through gloom, storm, upheaval, and light I followed you, like a mother bird guarding her young. As you lived out your human term of womb life, and emerged a babe, my eye was ever on you. When you covered your tiny form in the lotus posture under the Nadia sands in your childhood, I was invisibly present. Patiently, month after month, year after year, I have watched over you, waiting for this perfect day. Now you are here with me! Here is your cave, loved of yore; I have kept it ever clean and ready for you. Here is your hallowed asana-blanket, where daily you sat to fill your expanding heart with God. Here is your bowl from which you often drank the nectar prepared by me. See how I have kept the brass cup brightly polished, that someday you might drink again from it. My own, do you now understand?
“‘My guru, what can I say?” I murmured brokenly. ‘Where has one ever heard of such deathless love?’ I gazed long and ecstatically on my eternal treasure, my guru in life and death.”
To my taste, this is way better than the Bible. It gets right to the heart of our fraught and wondrous situation. Simply shine a bright enough light, and we are suddenly and wholly in a much larger universe than a moment ago it appeared.
Stones of the New Consciousness Healing, Awakening, & Co-Creating with Crystals, Minerals, & Gems by Robert Simmons.
This 2009 compendium corrects an important error in our cosmology and hierarchy of spiritual and devotional practices, particularly regarding our attempts to channel disembodied beings and work magic in the world by employing common and gem stones. Simmons offers instances and modes of communication, prayers, blessings, transmissions for—more than just interspecies channeling—inter-elemental concourse. In so doing, he peoples and sacralizes the whole universe. He brings to life the meanings and spiritual pathways of stones like azeztulite, selenite, moldavite, and gold danburite. I have incorporated Simmons’ teaching into my book 2013, so I will direct you there for more; meanwhile:
“The stones are the physical aspects of angels or benevolent spiritual beings. The qualities of the stones are pure but frozen in the stones, and through relationship with us the qualities can be freed into the world. The stones’ beings and we ourselves are individualized emanations of the Soul of the World, Sophia, and through conscious, loving relationship with her, we can engage in a dance of joyful co-creation that can remake the world into a Paradise. We are called, at this dire and propitious moment, to open ourselves to voluntary, willed evolution, in partnership with Sophia and with the soul beings of the crystals and stones.”
We are asked to take the stones literally into our heart (chakra), humbly petition their collaboration, and follow their after-images into an unknown psychic realm where we can meet on a soul level as peers.
A companion book, Robert Sardello’s Steps on the Stone Path: Working with Crystals, was published by North Atlantic Books in 2010. Whereas Simmons’ book provides a roster of individual stones and their personae and specific rituals for entering into discourse and collaboration with them, Sardello’s Stone Path enters into the archetypal realm of stone itself (among the “beings” in the universe)—its profound, cold silence; its alert, aware unconsciousness; and the transmission it is continuously making into the anima mundi, the collective consciousness that includes human and stone minds in one psyche.
I have likewise iterated Sardello’s lessons into 2013, particularly in the chapter “Opening the Portal.”
The Savage Mind; Totemism; The Raw and the Cooked; and Structural Anthropology by Claude Lévi-Strauss.
Lévi-Strauss is fundamental to grasping the complexity of not only non-Western systems but human thought itself, conceptual logic (scientific and ethnoscientific systems) as a mirror and operator of the natural world in and through which it has emerged. Contemporary science is not some pristine empirical system that was pulled dripping wet out of a mature, progressed consciousness enlightened and coronated during the Renaissance. It emerged in fragments from a cauldron of animism, superstition, and ethnoscience, and its main scaffolding, gears, links, and syntax were already present in profound ways in the bricolage of totemic and shamanic systems. Their grids are of the same fundamental and fractal order as advanced algebra or cybernetics, for humans in bands and tribes had fully sapient minds and imaginal processes and coded just as critical information while imbedding the information at least as deeply in matrices as intricate as those of mathematico-physics.
Tribal societies did not merely represent nature passively to themselves and mythologize its entities and forces in order to understand powerful, dangerous, and inexplicable agencies that impinged directly on their world; they also actively engaged with those agencies and their various embodiments in order to elucidate themselves—their own minded compulsions, their survival requisites and commissions, and their emergent roles in families and societies. The mythological operating system was necessary to continue to forge and renew the social world, as it was the only available log, the only game in town.
For Lévi-Strauss as for Freud, the clue to the world and its meanings is not our surface conscious activity or its painstakingly marked tropes, but the hidden and more charged vectors of unconscious and symbolic activity that run beneath the surface in order to generate patent events and the belief systems that tie them to the social and psychological world.
Lévi-Strauss set the terms for the discussion of clarity and intimacy of the savage mind with a comparison of hysteria and totemism that opens his early book on the topic. On the first page he declares:
“The first lesson of Freud’s critique of Charcot’s theory of hysteria lay in convincing us that there is no essential difference between states of mental health and mental illness; that the passage from one to the other involves at most a modification in certain general operations which everyone may see in himself; and that consequently the mental patient is our brother, since he is distinguished from us in nothing more than by an involution—minor in nature, contingent in form, arbitrary in definition, and temporary—of a historical development which is fundamentally that of every individual existence.” By the same token, there is no essential difference between states of science and states of totemism; both are contingent, involuted, and temporary.
In The Savage Mind CLS discusses “the false antimony between logical and prelogical mentality”:
“The savage mind is logical in the same sense and the same fashion as ours, though as our own is only when it is applied to knowledge of a universe in which it recognizes physical and semantic properties simultaneously…. It will be objected that there remains a major difference between the thought of primitives and our own: Information Theory is concerned with genuine messages whereas primitives mistake mere manifestations of physical determinism for messages. Two considerations, however, deprive this argument of any weight. In the first place, Information Theory has been generalized, and it extends to phenomena not intrinsically possessing the character of messages, notably to those of biology; the illusions of totemism have had at least the merit of illuminating the fundamental place belonging to phenomena of this order, in the internal economy of systems of classification. In treating the sensible properties of the animal and plant kingdoms as if they were the elements of a message, and in discovering ‘signatures’—and so signs—in them, men have made mistakes of identification: the meaningful element was not always the one they supposed. But without perfected instruments which would have permitted them to place it where it most often is—namely at the microscopic level—they already discerned ‘as through a glass darkly’ principles of interpretation whose heuristic value and accordance with reality have been revealed to us only through very recent inventions: telecommunications, computers, and electron microscopes.”
The savage mind was already engaged in sophisticated messaging and information processing and transmutation. Signatures yield signs that become meanings and generate acts that shake loose more signatures and signs. This is totemism, but this is also the novel science unleashed by the microscope. No one is looking through that glass except that same savage mind in us:
“The form is not outside, but inside. In order to perceive the rationale of animal designations they must be envisaged concretely, for we are not free to trace a boundary on the far side of which purely arbitrary considerations would reign. Meaning is not decreed; if not everywhere it is nowhere.”
In the essay “The Sorcerer and His Magic” in Structural Anthropology, CLS discloses the basic link between all shamanic systems and all psychotherapeutic systems, in the process showing how transference, cathexis, and abreaction are the true currency of effective mental and social healing (and magic), contrary to countervening medical paradigms based on objective logic and (mainly) the microscope (which doesn’t make healers any savvier; it just gives them more information):
“The shaman does not limit himself to reproducing or miming certain events. He actually relives them in all their vividness, originality, and violence. And since he returns to his normal state at the end of the séance, we may say, borrowing a key term from psychoanalysis, that he abreacts. In psychoanalysis, abreaction refers to the decisive moment in treatment when the patient intensively relives the initial situation from which his disturbance stems, before he ultimately overcomes it. In this sense, the shaman is a professional abreactor.”
The phenomenology of the experience and its social and symbolic transmission are the keys to its memorialization and the effectiveness of its symbols and bifurcating institutions: “….[O]nly the history of the symbolic function can allow us to understand the intellectual condition of man, in which the universe is never charged with sufficient meaning and in which the mind always has more meanings available than there are objects to which to relate them. Torn between the two systems of reference—the signifying and the signified—man asks magical thinking to provide him with a new system of reference, within which the thus-far contradictory elements can be integrated….”
In the end everything else fails or expires. For the world to go on, it is meaning that much be preserved and transferred.
To conceive “The Sorcerer and His Magic,” Lévi-Strauss took an obsolete and pretty much forgotten text of anthropologist Franz Boaz, a particular oral history from the “translations” volume of The Religion of the Kwakiutl Indians, in particular the biography of one shaman, Quesalid, and reanalyzed it in terms of the intrinsic power of totems to transform events within their matrices.
I hope it is not immodest to say that in my book Planet Medicine, first in the original version subtitled From Stone Age Shamanism to Post-Industrial Healing, I took both Boaz’s and Lévi-Strauss’s texts (going back to the Boaz original rather than Structural Anthropology for Quesalid’s full tale), and reanalyzed both of them in terms of not just the disjunctive affinity between totemism and science—and not just the abreactive power of shamanism—but also the overlooked psychic, magical, and esoteric elements of both systems, for these hierarchies of power and meaning are self-created in their own interchange and intercalation of symbols and signs. I added a third layer: the psychic on top of the symbolic and abreactive. Then for the later, revised Planet Medicine, I commissioned the comix artist Spain Rodriguez, creator of Trashman, to put Quesalid’s story in a several-page strip, illustrating the serial account. That version appears in the Origins volume of the most recent revision of Planet Medicine.
In The Raw and the Cooked and its sequels, From Honey to Ashes, The Origin of Table Manners, and The Naked Man, Lévi-Strauss proceeds methodically through an ancient, untagged, diffuse, disjunctive and defective mythological pantheon with the encyclopedic thoroughness of a collector of rare amulets and remarkable capacity to penetrate into intertribal and trans-regional North and South American Indian totemic systems. He tracks the many forms into which a single tale and a germinal meaning and characters can transfuse, transform, and disperse (much like entities in a dream), in the process creating an entire philosophy of things and their opposites. He excavates one of the millions of logic grids and meaning systems in indigenous American mythology (and proxy ethnoscience), as it radiated out from multiple sources and trackbacked across novel and redundant paths. Social events derived from the affairs of plants, animals, and other natural objects (like bees collecting honey, a jaguar carrying meat, Orion in the night sky, frogs multiplying in an empty gourd, bird-nesters) mutate through human DNA-like conversions into signs and syntaxes of whole ethnoscientific, etiological, and social systems in constant interaction and revision with the natural world. Each single myth functions as a transformative projection of all the other myths in the pantheon, even across broken and flawed versions and language barriers. Then all the different tales and their subsets together, even for their disjunctions and incommensurate matches of character casts, make up an occult abacus of cosmology and epistemology:
“….[M]etaphors are based on an intuitive sense of the logical relations between one realm and other realms; metaphor reintegrates the first realm with the totality of the others, in spite of the fact that reflective thought struggles to separate them. Metaphor, far from being a decoration that is added to language, purifies it and restores it to its original nature, through momentarily obliterating one of the innumerable synecdoches that make up speech.
“It follows, therefore, that when myths and rites display a predilection for hyberbole, they are not making an artificial use of rhetoric. Emphatic statement is natural to them; it is a direct expression of their properties; it is the visible shadow of a hidden logical structure. Mythic thought, when it inserts the pattern of human relations into a cosmological context which seems to extend beyond them on all sides but which…is, when taken in its entirety, isomorphic with them and in its way able to both include them and to imitate them, is echoing a linguistic process the importance of which does not need to be stressed….
“The layered structure of myth…allows us to look upon myth as a matrix of meanings which are arranged in lines or columns, but in which each level always refers to some other level, whichever way the myth is read. Similarly, each matrix of meanings refers to another matrix, each myth to other myths. And if it is now asked to what final meaning these mutually significative meanings are referring—since in the last resort and in their totality they must refer to something—the only reply…is that myths signify the mind that evolves them by making use of the world of which it is itself part. Thus there is simultaneous production of myths themselves, by the mind that generates them and, by the myths, of an image of the world which is already inherent in the structure of the mind.”
This is one step, a tiny step, away from both active magic and Taoist philosophy and, at the same time, a universe removed. CLS is no magician or Taoist, but he captures the logical pathways by which both create their meanings and operating systems in the bricolage of the natural world and the savage mind.
A companion to The Savage Mind and The Raw and the Cooked…The Naked Man), though in the domain of syntax and morphophonemics, might be Noam Chomsky’s Aspects of a Theory of Syntax. Chomsky begins his forensics far prior to totemism, in the matrix of deep strings underlying the neurological basis of syntax itself. He builds his language logic-strings like unaffiliated stem cells into a universal basis of all language. Tibetan, Cherokee, Zulu, and Hungarian may play and sound differently from one another, radically so in fact, but they are being performed on the same instruments and they were once patented by the same composer: the universal primate grid of the evolving speech centers of the vertebrate brain. The different dialects are regional variations of the strings and conceptual grids predetermining them in the brain. The phonemes and sememes may be exotic and unique (like the clicks of Zulu), but at their fundament is a prelinguistic language that fully determines them in each case.
One can build from Chomsky (pure synaptic chains) through Freud (the dynamic representations of the conceptual mind and the libidinal drives behind instincts and conscious motivations) to Lévi-Strauss (the representation of these same primary pathways and structures in full-blown totemic, social, and ethnoscientific systems).
For an insightful survey on Lévi-Strauss, check out The Structural Study of Myth and Totemism, edited by Edmund Leach.
The White Goddess by Robert Graves.
In the tree alphabets of ancient Europe, particularly those developed by the Celts, lie the origins of not only all alphabets and graphemic (memic) systems, but the proto-cosmologies and mythological principles that they contain. As an epic poet himself, Graves is interested in the birth of the song/ode and the mythic forms that drive literature as well as the systemic basis of language itself. Thus, he excavates and/or derives the point at which an alphabet is inextricable from the ancient Stone Age stories that the alphabet archives and tells through its arrangement of letters and their affiliation with sacred trees and the original meanings of those trees:
“It has been established that the Roebuck, originally a White Hind, hides in the thicket, and that the thicket is composed of twenty-two sacred trees. The poet naturally asks a further question: ‘But where exactly is the beast lodged in the grove?’
“‘Where?’ is the question that should always weigh most heavily with poets who are burdened with the single poetic Theme of life and death. …[I]t is because the cuckoo utters is ‘Where?’ so constantly that it is represented in early Welsh poetry as a kill-joy: for ‘cw-cw,’ pronounced ‘ku-ku’ means ‘where? where?’. It cries: ‘Where is my love gone? Where are my lost companions? Curiously the same sentiment occurs in Omar Khayyam’s elegy where the ‘solitary ring-dove’ broods in the ruined palace crying: ‘Ku? Ku? Ku? Ku?’—the Iranian for ‘where’ being the same as Welsh; and in Greek myth Tereus the hoopoe cries ‘Pou? Pou?’ for his lost brides. ‘Where’ in English is derived, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘from the interrogative stem qua’. Nearly all interrogatives in Indo-European languages begin with Q (except where Q has been, as in Greek, changed into a P or, as in Germany, into a W), and in Old Scots ‘where’ is spelt ‘Quhair’. Q, in fact, is the letter of perpetual question. Latin has a fine range of Q’s: “Quare? Quis? Qua? Quid? Qui? Quo? Quomodo? Quando? Quorsum? Quoties? Quantum? Quot? And the serpent’s dangerous question Quidni? ‘Why not?’ ‘Where?’ is Qua?
“But the muse’s promise to the poet is ‘Seek patiently, and you shall find,’ so where else should the Wild Hind be hiding except under the Q tree, which is the Wild Apple…?
“‘The letter Q is from a tree named Quert, that is to say, an apple tree.’” The inverted apple is literally (literally) the Q, which etymologically is the great and famous question asked of the Serpent in the Garden, to which the answer is (ever and only) Consciousness, which has no limit and is no answer.
For more of this planet-wide rebus, see The Alphabet and the Ancient Calendar Signs by Hugh A. Moran and David H. Kelley.
Les Mots et Les Choses (Words and Things, translated as The Order of Things) by Michel Foucault.
I list the French version of this title because it is the only book that I have ever read in a foreign language, as it was my selection for a course that I took in graduate school as part of the requirement for an anthropology PhD. To demonstrate proficiency in another language, I had to read one untranslated work and pass an exam on it. Since this book had not yet been published in English at that time, I selected it. Then I pretty much lost all my French through disuse.
Foucault was already important to me, as not only had I read his earlier (and translated) book, Madness and Civilization, but a fellow graduate student Bill Christian had deciphered sections of Les Mots et Les Choses as a submission to what became (because of their elucidation of the different levels at which serpents and other natural forms exist biologically, semantically, symbolically, and lexographically) the Doctrine of Signatures issue of Io (see Christian’s translation below).
To my mind Words and Things is Foucault’s singular, classic work, as it captures the whole historic territory of the hidden operations behind Western thought as it evolved out of its unseen and hidden background into modernity. In the process it pulled along manifold sympathies, signatures, correspondences, resemblances, and principles of magic, astrology, and divination that not only underlay the fabric of meaning in Mediaeval and Ancient European culture but foreshadowed the ever-dormant syntax of science.
Symbols, signs, nomenclatures, discourses, and taxonomies oscillate behind all languages, while language as a meta-system flickers behind all objects and the tales regarding and defining them. The human universe, the imago mundi, is, in a sense the universe itself, the only universe that has ever been known. It changes landscapes by the radical fluxes of its signs and taxonomies rather than through sterile telescopic and microscopic lenses and cyclotronic bombardments of its forms:
“Buffon, on one occasion, was astonished that in the works of a naturalist like Aldrovandi there was such an inextricable mixture of exact descriptions, uncritical fables, comments made indiscriminately about anatomy, heraldry, habitat, the mythological attributions of an animal, or their various uses in medicine or magic. And when, in fact, we look at the Historia serpentum et draconum, we see that the chapter ‘On Serpents in general’ is divided into the following headings: equivocation (the different senses in which the word serpent can be used), synonyms and etymologies, differences, form and description, anatomy, character and habitats, temperament, sex and reproduction, voices, movements, places, food, physiognomy, antipathy, sympathy, ways to catch, death and wounds by the serpent, methods and signs of poisoning, remedies, epithets, designations, marvels and omens, monsters, mythology, gods to which he is consecrated, fables, allegories and mysteries, hieroglyphics, emblems, and symbols, adages, coins, miracles, enigmas, devices, heraldic signs, deeds, dreams, reproductions and statues, uses as food, uses in medicine, diverse uses. And Buffon says: ‘Let one judge after that what portion of natural history there is in this jumble of writing. All that is not description, but legend.’
“In fact, for Aldrovandi and his contemporaries, all that they wrote is legenda—things to read. But the reason is not a preference for the authority of men over the exactitude of an unbiased observation, but rather that nature itself is a seamless fabric of words and marks, of stories and letters, of discourses and forms. When one has the story of an animal to tell, it is useless and impossible to choose between the role of a naturalist and that of an anthologist: in one and the same form of knowledge must be gathered all that has been seen and heard, all that has been related by nature or by men in the language of the world, of tradition, or of poets. To know a beast, or a plant, or anything from the earth is to collect the whole thick layer of signs that have been deposited in them or on them; it is to recover also all the constellations of forms when they take on the characteristics of emblems. Aldrovandi was not a better or a worse observer than Buffon; he was no more gullible than Buffon, and no less attached to the fidelity of observation or to the rational world. His observations were simply not tied to objects by the same system, or the same epistemological configuration. Aldrovandi was meticulously examining a nature that was, from top to bottom, written.”
The relationship between things and us is always evolving, and this can be glimpsed vividly in the genesis of science out of its various hermetica. Language is merely a special case of the fact that the world is written. Mind shapes unthought and latent meanings as well as hiatuses and gaps of meaning into possibilities and events, gradually and subliminally over centuries and millennia, into constructs, institutions, and city blocks—so vestigial and primitive meanings continue to reemerge from within our epistemes. We have, in a sense, created and reinvented our world-view and our biases from the discontinuities and contradictions and unsolved riddles and dilemmas of our ragged and still-virulent crises of meaning. They each have come a great distance from other world-views of other tribes in other centuries, as phenomenologies continue to emerge novelly out of the debris of prior phenomenologies and to lay the groundwork for more debris and more epistemes.
Foucault shows in Madness and Civilization, that the definition of insanity swings across history between two poles. At one extremity we keep trying to have a sincere dialogue with madness, to reconcile ourselves with its irrationality and to decode its secret and tangled and painful meanings; at the antipode we banish and quarantine madness and even punish the insane as if they were intruders into our order.
I’ll let you guess which method tends to work out better in the end, for society as well as for the provisionally insane. And I’ll also let you guess which guys are in charge of the asylum today.
The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, translated by Maria Jolas.
The internal/interior can be profound in a way that is not necessarily concomitant with metaphysics. Interior, subtle, and nostalgic qualities and ambiances of houses, chests, shells, corners, oceans, night nests, and other commonplace but deep phenomenologies are explored by Bachelard in exquisite detail. This book is like a poetry frozen in time, a gentle inquiry that reminds us that all meanings arise from feelings, intimations, and the sheer mystery of us and objects in pagan space.
The Poetics of Space is a primer of internalization even as a book on colors and their emotional meanings would strive toward being a primer of painting. We are all painters of our own internal milieus.
Navaho Religion: A Study in Symbolism by Gladys Reichard.
Reichard is so thorough, multidimensional, and complex that you come away with an intimate sense of the depth of any indigenous cosmology—the characters, plants, animals, arrows, clouds, cosmological hues, and flints in this drama become personal and real. Meanings assigned at one level in a myth become active operators and psychic catalysts at another level of the same myth or in a different myth or in a sand painting and its associated healing ceremony. This book, with its vivid creatures, totem entities, bright colors, and dynamic, cascading totemic forms, reveals that religious symbolism in tribal culture is also an algebra, a writing of the world (as per Foucault above), and a constantly evolving diagnostic forensics. More than that, Reichard delivers a single Navaho healing ceremony so real and whole that you get to live inside its operation, collect its artifacts, accoutrements, and props with the people, paint its dimension and geography in the imagined dust of tinted stone and soil, and re-envision its revelation inside your own mind in its (not your) world view:
“By association the elements are drawn into a whole, so subtly that many of the people concerned may be unaware of it. The scheme may be compared with a language. The ordinary speaker, using it merely for communication, is unconscious of its components—sounds, grammatical forms expressing concepts, and, above all, meanings…. Similarly Navaho ritual is composed of symbols, each of which may different in kind as much as in phonetics, psychological concepts, and individual significations. Yet the whole is comprehended in varying degrees, even if only through feeling and faith….
“A few chanters, the learned men of the tribe, realize that snake, lightning, arrows, flints, hoops, and precious stones are associated—‘the same,’ they would call them; many do not. The latter are content to depict in sand-painting Snake as a person of zigzag shape, to sing of zigzag lightning, to relate the incident of Arrow People in myth, and to cause flints to rattle in a basket, without mentally making any connection between them. The fact that they do not is no proof that the associations are not integrated.”
This book singlehandedly drew me to the Navaho reservation as a young man (twice, in 1966 and 1967), looking for its magic. I never found it. See Book of the Earth and Sky for my account at the time and 2013 for a later recounting and retrospective of how I missed.
On Growth and Form by D’arcy Thompson.
Shape is the simplest proposition. How did gravity- and mass-shaped waves, eddies, boundaries, splashes, and steep and shallow gradients turn into stones, membranes and proto-cellular animals? What is the undiagnosed underlying morphology of nature that nests and builds on itself?
Thompson has written the integral text for both biology and and physics, for he is a genius of integers. Thus an entire formal ontogenesis, lost in the chaos of genetic determinism, is conveyed by one man’s exquisite taxonomy of shapes.
See also Sensitive Chaos by Theodor Schwenk, an anthroposophical in lieu of a scientific text, focusing on water, crystals, and the interior projective geometry of the universe. What is merely formal and thermodynamic in Thompson is spiritual in Schwenk, carrying signification and spiritual energy from a higher, unseen domain. For Thompson water is an empty palette for gravity, shear force, current, and slope. For Schwenk water is the physical form of a creationary syrup or sap from a superior plane—and create it does! All over the planet, inside and out….
The Seven Mysteries of Life: An Exploration in Science and Philosophy by Guy Murchie.
Life is just plain out-and-out amazing and uncanny in every aspect and respect. Murchie presents the science of life without ever losing the wonder, the awe, and the mystery. He covers such diverse topics as telepathy; individual identity in ostensibly identical twins; how rocks get around (all of them do, but the travels of some are quite swift, while other don’t budge for centuries); splash and crystal dynamics (á la D’arcy Thompson); the crystalline grids of cities and human interactions and liquid crystals; pi, element 111, and other mathematical abstractions; the embryonic and inner lives of storms and stars; the anatomy of soil (including the soil that is us); the characteristics and qualities of the various crumbs and crevices in soil; the relationship between the size of the Earth and the size of its animals (as per gravity and extant chemistry); the respiratory, circulatory, and sense organs of trees; trees as obscure descendants of marine organisms; the relationship between time and scale and the human sense of time; the biology of laughter and fear; the morality of predation; a comparison of the natural music of wrens, the songs of Arab street vendors, the shouts of New York garbage vendors (who call to each other in descending minor thirds), and the symphonic compositions of Mozart and Wagner; phantom and imaginary limbs; how the imaginal world is synergized as something greater than the mishmash data of our senses; the group mind of bees; the way the body and mind combine to create each other’s meanings; the complex nature of memory (including memory in inanimate objects like water and stones); the navigation maps of birds; the life cycle of glaciers (including their quiet births during an inadequate summer thaw failing to dispatch the previous winter’s snow); the lack of a clear boundary between life and death in many animals (flatworms, caterpillars, hydras, dividing paramecia); the elusive nature of the subjective quality of death; the imagination of ourselves before we are born and after we die (under the rubric “We Simply Are”); the mystery behind a nonrandom universe that also works by draws of random numbers (the absurdity of billions of chimpanzees typing away for billions of billions of years in a hypothetical attempt to create the great works of literature); and so on and so on.
Murchie approaches each mystery with grace, wonder, quirkiness, awe, subtle curiosity, and a sense of hidden agency and spirit without ever violating the big laws of science.
This is a compendium of all the things you every wondered about the universe, even in a fleeting and forgotten moment, those odd inconsistencies and contradictions that have may have nagged at you without recourse. Murchie can’t resolve any of them, but he identifies each with indomitable precision and gives you an imaginative and even thrilling way to look at it. The Seven Mysteries of Life continually awakens you to the ubiquity of mystery itself, as it demonstrates that even the “known” aspects of the universe are fundamentally and irrevocably unknown.
Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan.
This is the scoop on how we get from simple proto-cellular and precellular life to cells and then plants and animals. It is also the micro-forensics of the origination of sex and feeding as parallel mechanisms that fused in the creation of the internal milieu, gender, genetic memory, creature, and creature replication.
By taking biology down to its fundamental, protist integer, right at the organelle borderline, Margulis and her son Sagan offer the fine ecology of collaboration, mutuality, and the primordial clone that are apparently deeper and more rife than our all-too-evident cannibalism and interspecies war. In fact, life is merely a cascade of continua, and species are no more discrete than they could be as blends of other plants and animals, containing within them both predator and prey (at more than one level).
I have drawn on this book extensively in both of my embryology texts, and I more recently summarized it from a fresh perspective in 2013.
Forerunners of Darwin: 1754-1859, edited by Bentley Glass, Owsei Temkin, and William Strauss, Jr.
Before the Darwinian world-view conquered science, its parts appeared in bits and pieces, each of which purveyed its own exotic, unexplored truth. Not only do we see in this compilation how Darwin and later armies of Darwinians manufactured the nihilistic, algorithmic world-view in a series of majestic rationalist strokes of empirical logic out of esoteric pieces, but we get to delve thoroughly into many of these lost theories and understand their flaws and unhatched meanings. Each of them was potentially an entire biology and had a legitimate life too. Each generated subsidiary riddles (to evolution itself) that are still worth exploring ontologically.
Are creatures random DNA machines or is there a design element hidden in nature and the cosmos somewhere? This is a question that both precedes and haunts biology, and Forerunners of Darwin offers an ample menu of alternate false trails and their implications for all life science.
The Great Chain of Being by Arthur O. Lovejoy.
The Great Chain of Being can have no traction in a world of completely atomized and novel characteristics generated randomly but discretely in an environmentally utilitarian context out of prior molecular bundles, and then transmitted like hands of poker through habitats and nature at large; but it influenced the development of Darwinian thought (by providing a map albeit of the wrong territory), and also in the ongoing critique of later neo-Darwinian science (by continuing to insist upon a totemic and supernatural layer-realm of nature, e.g., an archetypal duck as well as a naturally selected duck), to allow a “growth and form” element and geometric imperative to peek back into theory. This dichotomy is crucial to understanding Darwin and also something ontologically more fundamental than Darwin.
Nowadays Darwinian evolution occupies an absolute position, as its primacy arises in a world-view recruiting basic thermodynamics (entropy, energy) into a selection of natural forms containing and metabolizing that energy inside intra- and extracellular membranes. In terms of the history of ideas and the journey of consciousness, the trope of the Great Chain of Being offers an equally grand, metaphysical and neo-Platonic alternative to Darwin.
Though it is still evolutionary in its world-view and affinity, the Great Chain evolves as a procession of Steiner-like archetypes pre-set into nature, statuses which actual species then attain as they evolve through them. For instance, it is not the clam per se that evolves into the frog or the lemur into the ape on a nucleic, ontogenetic level; it is that an essential being manifests as a clam at one stage and evolves hermetically to manifest as a frog at a later phase. These manifestations are ordained in their exact hierarchical, consecutive iconic forms from the beginning of the planet, and actual creatures merely traverse the Great Chain. This preserves the trajectory of evolution, more or less, while also reifying the archetypes and the soul.
Life forms in taxonomies on a planet may be random arrangements of membranes and metabolisms, but they still reflect ideal and archetypal templates and inscribe an eschatological metaphor—one of purpose and intelligent design, though as distinctly foreign to the ID deists and fundamentalists as to registered materialist biologists—despite every omen and indication to the contrary.
A tableau of set hierarchies of species frozen inside a Platonic realm may be rigid and static by comparison to the chaotic and creative dynamics of an actual alive nature—and distinctly non-Darwinian or anti-Darwinian at the same time—yet it is a vast and paradoxical heresy that embraces Darwinian science as well as many different religious tropes, converting evolution in advance into a mode of divine, spiritual progression.
To study the history of the Great Chain of Being in the context of Darwinian evolution and also independent of it is engenders a deeper and more rounded understanding of the role of humanity in the universe. It allows us to view our own scientific projections among forces finally too vast to elucidate.
The Great Chain of Being was unquestionably smashed by Darwin or, more precisely, by the Darwinian purists who carried his scepter across the twentieth century, but the Chain itself endures in other realms as an unresolved metaphysical proposition of our situation. To interrogate its nuances and riddles and the biologically false (but phenomenologically valid) solutions that philosophers and biologists derived over the decades as regards, for instance, the “gaps” in the smooth flow of species and those between plants and animals, is to intuit something else that we were searching for and are still searching for, that was not tarnished or even grazed by the componential solution of Darwin.
Even if you are a pure Darwinian and want to grind all characteristics down to molecules before reassembling them in new creatures (and even if you think “life forms as Platonic categories” is rubbish), Lovejoy’s intellectual history of ideas ties Darwin elegantly to parallel epistemologies, vitalisms, and artistries that not only clarify the precise nature of his breakthrough (which foreshadowed Freud’s later breakthrough with dreams) but made his achievement all the more remarkable for its discernment of a very slight opening between neo-Platonic formalism and atomistic, pre-Socratic formlessness, and then to rend it wide enough for the whole of modernity to squeeze through.
See Stuart Pivar’s recent On the Origin of Form: Evolution by Self-Organization. Pivar’s real knowledge of biology, like many of those in the Great Chain of Being crowd, may be one nanometer deep, but his comprehension of the transmission and projection f form in membranes proves that the Chain is still alive and well among toruses (tori), tetrahedra, and topobiological/morphogenetic fields.
Ontogeny and Phylogeny by Stephen Jay Gould.
One of the most tantalizing puzzles of the biological world is the resemblance between the stages undergone in the development of individuals over mere months in embryos and the evolution of the species through natural selection over millennia and epochs. Do humans and other life forms actually replicate their phylogenetic history in the seed? Does ontogeny itself recapitulate phylogeny?
The answer is no, but that “no” is complicated enough to carry many other “nos” and “yeses” inside it at multiple levels of timing, coding, and miniaturization of environments. Embryos are not recapitulations but adaptations to life in the womb (or egg or pond or soil or host) at their own discrete stages. On the other hand, the only place from which embryos can get their characteristics and ultimate organs—and in fact any information at all—is the nucleic ledger of all prior embryos, prior in each of their own lineages which inevitably lead back to first cell in the dawn sea. Embryos move forever away from their ancestors, but they are likewise drawn back to them by the continuity of genetic data and the fact that, despite almost complete elision, the DNA thread itself cannot be cut without snuffing out life itself.
The keys are neoteny, heterochrony, contraction, involution, the eternal return of basic forms, and the transposition of external breeding environments to inside of membranes.
This book will take you on an egghead journey filled with design plans, riddles, and provisional solutions. It is an inspiring travelogue with a docent who, even if a materialist paleontologist (to his literal bones), is sincerely trying to unravel ancient, even esoteric events from clues melded into modern protoplasm.
I explicated some of the key aspects of this book inside and out to write the “Ontogeny and Phylogeny” chapter of Embryogenesis, and then I came back to it at a deeper level in “The Limits of Genetic Determinism” chapter in Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings.
Investigations by Stuart Kauffman.
Kauffman starts with the remarkable and generally unacknowledged fact that the Darwinian model does not actually explain how life got started from inorganic chemistry. He first proves that dilemma by demonstrating mathematically and biophysically how hard it is to get agency, let alone mindedness, from lifeless chemicals. In truth, it is impossible—those billion monkeys can type away forever, but they won’t create a lame bacterium. Then he goes on to “save the appearance” of overly sleek Darwinian and neo-Darwinian models with an extraordinarily complex series of sets of epicycles, digging into the mystery of the universe and its generation of life (and agency) at quantum and meta levels while deriving by deeper and more emergent, disjunctive routes than simple algorithms from natural selection. Check out this Lewis Carroll realm of nonergodicity, propagating organization, the adjacent possible, quantum gravity, aperiodicity, exaptations, autocatalytic sets, states of equiibrium, and other Mad Hatters and Cheshire Cats.
I don’t understand most of this book, but I get enough of it to feel exhilarated by Kauffman’s inspired florescence of multiple equations, deep and complex structures, and quantum leaps within chaos, to intuit the outline of a much richer and more imaginative, vital, and forgiving universe. Mostly I feel its/his energy, creative implications, and homage to amazing gods that do not yet know how to approach us (or that we do not know how to approach except by these baby steps):
“Note that the biosphere has been expanding, on average, into the adjacent possible for 4.8 billion years….
“It is more than slightly interesting that this fact is clearly true, that it is rarely remarked upon, and that we have no particular theory for this expansion….
“We are all parts of the universe. So, in our little hunk of the universe, with the sun shining beatifically upon us, rather remarkable goings on have occurred. Indeed, the biosphere might be one of the most complex things in the universe….
“The substrates are present in the actual, and the products are not present in the actual, but only in the adjacent possible. It follows that every such reaction couple is displaced from its equilibrium in the direction of an excess of substrates compared to its products. This displacement constitutes a chemical potential driving the reaction toward equilibrium. The simple conclusion is that there is a real chemical potential from the actual to the adjacent possible. Other things being equal, the total system ‘wants’ to flow into the adjacent possible.”
Kauffman’s Investigations lie at the crux and core of my Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings; in fact it is the text that kicks it off.
The Sleepwalkers and The Roots of Coincidence: An Excursion into Parapsychology by Arthur Koestler.
The Sleepwalkers is an account of the history of astronomy from the Greeks through Galileo, as Koestler shows that the night sky is a giant puzzle containing not only its own clues to nature of stars, planets, orbits, and their organization and orientation in space, but the keys to creation itself and its hidden algebra. Koestler dramatically captures the series of definitive astrophysical revelations that led to cosmological modernity in this memoir of the progression from Pythagoras through Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, showing how they came first to solve the equation of the Solar System and then space itself. As mythology gradually turned into science and mathematics, it thereby unlocked the deep and infinite workings of the physical universe writ in the night sky. Of course, it was not nearly that simple.
The dissolving of ornamental, astrological, and mythological skies into an actual physical sky sleepwalked through a discontinuous series of spontaneous recognitions and discoveries like sequential awakenings from a dream within a dream within a dream. As the astronomical was separated from the astral realm, actual orbits were derived from the zodiacs of various mythologies, and a heliocentric Solar System was projected out of an anthropocentric, geocentric universe. The profound mathematics underlying all of nature was gradually revealed. The night sky had been a great puzzle written in light and space and motion. Kepler was one of its brilliant decoders, an early recognizer of trigononmetry where there had previously been only ancient gods:
“When I realized that this secant [in the sickle of Mars’s orbit] equals 1.00429,” Kepler wrote, “I felt as if I had been awakened from a sleep….”
Koestler adds: “At the first moment, the reappearance of the number 0.00429 in this unexpected context must have appeared as a miracle to Kepler. But he realized in a flash that the apparent miracle must be due to a fixed relation…which must hold true for any point of the orbit; only the manner in which he had stumbled on that relation was due to chance…. Now at last, at long last, after six years of incredible labour, he held the secret of the Martian orbit. He was able to express the manner in which the planet’s distance from the sun varied with its position, in a simple formula, a mathematical law of nature. But he still did not realize that this formula specifically defined the orbit as an ellipse.”
This book maintains a literary verve that throws one back into each tipping point for newness, wonder, and discovery among the luminous spheres of the night, giving their moments novel backgrounds and views, yet staying true to the actual histories as revealed in ledgers and journals of the time.
Using The Sleepwalkers as a companion, I plowed this ground again in The Night Sky.
In The Roots of Coincidence Koestler explores the wide range of inexplicable phenomena in nature. This book is hardly the most exhaustive or even cleverest parapsychological round-up. However, I like it for the author’s broad, eclectic, humanitarian, and unavoidably mainstream approach. Koestler makes no distinction, ideological or in the service of branding, between, on the one hand, remote viewing, synchronicity, and coincidences (so-called dubious events that are usually assigned to the metaphysical and pseudo-scientific realm), and, on the other, embryonic development, polyp specialization in a Portuguese Man of War, and the seeming group mind of bees and termites, to cite a few examples.
Life and its Integrative Tendency are a challenge to the Second Law of Thermodynamics whereby the universe should be running down like a giant clock, its energy dissipated and ultimately squandered, along with us, into all-encompassing entropy. The accumulation of information, coincidence, and complexity inside membranes indicates that some other event is ravelling too.
For a tour of anti-entropy, you might also check out R. Buckminster Fuller’s Nine Chains to the Moon (and his other writings both major and incidental, particularly his “Vision 65 Summary Lecture” in The American Scholar, Spring 1966, and his poetic “Telegram to Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine” in Ecology and Consciousness).
And for more of a look at our unacknowledged and suppressed senses and abilities, check out Peter Redgrave, The Black Goddess and The Unseen Real: Our Unconscious Senses and Their Uncommon Sense. We tend to pay more attention to the domain of the White Goddess because we prefer our reflection in her, but we carry the Black Goddess inside us and we channel and transmit her far-and-wide universe too.
The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers by Carl L. Becker.
Next to Moby Dick, this was the most influential book of my high-school curriculum, though in history class (of course) rather than English. It is a fairly simple tome based on a fable-like conceit—the notion that mankind considers itself perfectible, improving, and headed toward raising the city of heaven on Earth: “The philosopher-historians were very sure that all human experience would justify reason and common sense….”
Enter Freud and the unconscious a century later…and then two World Wars, nuclear weapons, genocide, and there goes the Heavenly City, at least for now.
But this text was mucho impactful to a teenager, and its influence has retained a subtle whisper in my ear in the decades since, even as our species has made anything but a heavenly city. For that city exists somewhere, at least in the imagination of youth, so I continue to honor it in New Age communes, solar farms, and intentional communities, and this book is a fair reminder of it was supposed to be about, back when we were young.
Physics and Philosophy; Physics and Beyond; and Across the Frontiers by Werner Heisenberg.
Human beings, scientists, who are part of the universe and inside of the creation—effects of an infinitely vast as well as intricately infinitesimal hierarcy of processes—should hardly be able to explain that process or decode its effects to any exhaustive degree (Stephen Hawking’s boasts notwithstanding). The universe is simply too deep, too old, too complex, and too insouciant to be explained.
But if you are going go mano a mano with quantum-physics, with quantum metaphors and tropes in an intellectual quest for the key of keys, you might as well get your goods from a master. Heisenberg traces the structure of matter from the pre-Socratics through Bohr’s atomic model, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory. He yaws all the way from Thales to Goethe, Planck to Pauli, disclosing how linguistic structures and classic logic (and mathematics itself) are inadequate to the conceptual and descriptive tasks. In this regard he distinguishes between correctness, a much lower bar, and a higher bar, the unattainable absolute truth. In defense of the latter, he decries the unchallenged coronation and hegemony of science and technology as nothing more than attempts to “make hell a more agreeable place to live in.”
At the same time that Heisenberg is exploring the atom and quantum theory, he is raising basic questions about aesthetics, morality, and the nature of man as, for instance, in dealing with his own unwitting complicity with Hitler’s regime.
You don’t get this kind of broad humanistic sweep these days, at least not without banal New Age trappings. I propose here that all later attempts to make a big cosmological and Buddhist fuss about the quantum/Tao nature of reality are primarily over-effortings by people dancing with metaphors and fabrications by comparison to the offhand elegant clarity and kind severity of earnest Dr. Heisenberg’s inquiry.
The Nature of Time, edited by Thomas Gold.
Time is not only one of the great mysteries of the cosmos [along with, of course, space, gravity, matter, energy, life (being), and consciousness], but it is the overseer of biological existence. All creatures are clocks, traveling motionlessly on a fast-moving river that goes only one way, no return possible (or is there?). All life is apparently subject to birth, maturation, decay, and cessation. Inanimate matter is traveling along with us: you cannot smash an asteroid (or a piece of china) and then turn it around such that it flows back into its precise prior state.
Since time is a koan, its contemplation is essential to an understanding of our existence. This Gold-compiled book was my entrée and key into the arcana of, as it dubs itself, “the nature of time.” I read it many times in my early twenties and never subsequently forgot its menagerie of provocations, paradoxes, lessons, maps, bent curves, and other topological wonders. I don’t claim to understand even half of it, and none of the mathematics—in fact, I probably don’t grok any of topology fully—but I intuit the general sense of not only time’s mystery but its precise paradox with its all-too-enticing hints of subtle contradictions and pathways through the trenchant fixity of a dictatorial even-flowing, one-way verdict, hints toward something—something else.
Gold and his colleagues take the nature of time from an abstraction and a poetic or metaphysical conceit to a set of exquisite, branching, interconnected equations: “You can’t step into the same river twice,” as Heraclitus (below) warned the West long ago.
We discover time’s anisotropy (its directional bias or dependence), its event horizons, the discrepant nature of its flow inside and outside the atom (and inside and outside stars—although you should check out the various writings of Kip Thorne for surrealistic tropes regarding the passage of matter out of collapsing stars through black holes, such that it bubbles up elsewhere in the universe).
We also encounter past and future infinities, hypersurfaces, the fundamental marriage between time and matter, the conundrum of thermodynamic irreversibility and nonthermodynamic irreversibility, entropy indicator states, time as a cosmological yardstick, the relation between (or lack of a true physical law distinguishing) matter and antimatter, the role of time in defining quantum and observer-object relationships, and why (as above) a cracked eggshell cannot be uncracked.
Images arising from this book (and Thorne’s original Scientific American article on crushed stars) imbued my earliest texts like Solar Journal, Spaces Wild and Tame, and Book of the Earth and Sky. In fact, Spaces… is named after topologies introduced by Gold, for they are both wild and tame, by scientific fiat no less.
The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans by G.J. Sawyer, Viktor Deak, Esteban Sarmiento, and Richard Milner.
Other human species have shared the Earth with us once upon a time, a long time ago before we get our groove going. So we are not the only naked apes, the only hominids who graduated to stone tools, fire, and art on cave walls. We never were the sole and unique experiment in culture and consciousness.
Who were others? What did they look like (this book in fact is filled with haunting forensics of these cold-case victims)? What did they believe? Which of their beliefs, if anything at all, were transmitted to us or conferred psychically upon us? Would any of them “pass” today on the streets of New York (or Cairo). Would any of them have done a better job than us? Were they intrinsically wiser and more peaceful than we have proved to be in our stewardship of the Earth? (And then that horrible follow-up question: Is that why we survived at their expense, at least till now?)
To whom did they pray? Have their footprints entirely vanished? Do some of them yet walk as yetis and sasquatches?
This book brings our cousin humans to life and gives us images for the terrestrial aliens, as well as an intimation, unrequited forever, of other possibilities—possibilities lost, possibilities to regain by recognizing our crime and by atoning, to reclaim the lost Earth—their Earth too. Yes, we are, for better or worse, the Last Human.
I have written another review and account of this book in the context of the migration waves of later “last human” tribes in The Bardo of Waking Life.
The Roots of Civilization by Alexander Marshack.
Long before there were identifiable stone tools and cave paintings, more rudimentary forensics bespoke the inklings of human consciousness. All it took were bones and sharp rocks to begin the science of the phases of the Moon, to scribble the first notes on the blank margin of time. Marshack finds the trace evidence where it has almost eroded into unintelligibility. By its marks he reinvents and interprets the culture of the dawn people.
Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on Myth & The Fame of Time by Giorgi de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend.
The night sky was the original cosmological notebook of Homo sapiens; its tracking and rudimentary analysis contained the origination sites of speculative science and its accompanying epistemology. De Santillana and von Dechend trace the precession of the equinoxes; in particular, the adventures of that ancient salt-grinding constellar figure who launched the story behind the story that led to Shakespeare’s play of a Danish prince of the same name, the original one asking a different and more primordial historico-ontological question than simply “to be or not to be”.
The authors keep on the morphing trail of Hamlet’s Mill (and related ancestral constellations) through millennia of human time and successions of cultures, showing how these star groups provide the axes of meaning within various regional mythologies and how their mute inquiry into the nature of time tags an evolving recognition of the difference between terrestrial embodiment and cosmic spirit life.
Even as the sky goes through its profound cycles and existential wanderings, with esoteric meanings beyond us, those meanings are imbedded through the constellations and their movements into our ken and our accounts of a different esoteric event, an ever local one, which may, through a glass darkly (the glass and its opacity being the lattice of our elemental cell-grid and primordial archetypal and totemic knowledge), render a version of the same esoteric event that rules creation itself. This book is the Rosetta Stone for all of that kind of stuff.
I have written about Hamlet’s Mill most thoroughly in The Night Sky where it gets its own “Star Myth” chapter.
Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age by Charles Hapgood.
Hapgood focuses on a collection of maps, notably one drawn by Piri Re’is in 1513, which ostensibly represent the cumulative and occult geographical knowledge floating around Europe at the time. The kicker is that these maps contain extensive information that not only couldn’t have been available to Piri Re’is or his cartographic colleagues but that could not have been extant anywhere except by a long tradition of maps going back to the dawn of civilization.
This is a haunting primer text of those ghost navigators who circled the Earth before Egypt. How were these remarkable maps from the Pleistocene generated and preserved? Where did they come from? Did Columbus carry any of them with him? Are they even solely human?
Submerged Atlantic islands that no longer exist (and remnants of the submergence of other islands) reappear. The coastlines of South America, Africa, and Antarctica unmistakably represent their contours during the Ice Age. In one map (that of Oronteus Finaeus) Queen Maud Land is shown with mountain peaks above the present levels of ice (Piri Re’is displays an even more astonishing absence of any ice at all). Hence, these carographies necessarily correspond to an earlier global-warming period within the lifetime of the human race.
Even whole continents are displaced in relative longitude to one another. Furthermore, the spherical trigonometry used to create the scales and projections of Piri Re’is et al. is far more sophisticated than the antiquity to which the projection is applied. Another one of those alien or Atlantean conspiracy-theory paradoxes!
Note three maps of Cuba on MOFASK’s page 61. Each with its own remarkable precisions, they suggest that the island was well-known in Europe even before Columbus’s first voyage. And how about that mysterious castle at the mouth of the southern bay on Bordone’s map? Is that a metaphor, a vestige, or a clue?
In 1968 I interviewed Charles Hapgood for the Ethnoastronomy Issue of Io and, in answer to several sequential questions, he replied, in part: “The Piri Re’is and Oronteus Finaeus maps only appeared in the Renaissance, based, quite evidently, on rediscovered ancient source maps, but these were only rediscovered, it seems, after Columbus’ first voyage. Their rediscovery may have been in part a result of his voyages, for now there was a new interest in the whole globe, in the New World as well as the Far East, and so many old archives in Constantinople and elsewhere were pored over anew…..
“The old maps were copied again and again, perhaps hundreds of times through long ages, and each time some errors were probably included. Many of the maps (like the Piri Re’is Map) were composites—somebody collected a lot of local maps and put them together as well as he could, making a legion of mistakes…..
“I started with the assumption that the Piri Re’is map was a product of ancient science, but of a science more advanced than that of the ancient world that we know, going back at very least to Phoenicia and Crete….
“I thought that these ancient people might well have had advanced mathematics—at very least, trigonometry—and have been able to apply it to construct map projections, which even Hipparchus could do. And finally, I assumed that the Phoenicians, the Creteans, or some older people now unknown, might have had instruments equivalent to our compass and chronometer as well as astrolabes, etc….
“The accuracy of the maps proves that somebody, sometime, had the instruments for gathering accurate geographical data, as well as knowledge of the use of trigonometry in constructing map projections.”
The Presocratics edited by Philip Wheelwright.
Just from the fragments left behind by avatars and savants such as Heraclitus, Parmenides, Anaximander, Thales, Anaxagoros, Pythagoras, and the like you can divine the fading rumor of a vast pre-Western, proto-Western, non-Western philosology.
Can you imagine if we had their whole oeuvres. This intimation still includes, formatively anyway, pretty much the whole etiological and epistemological universe (and some early advanced physics and astrophysics too).
Thales: “The Earth rests upon water.” “All things are full of gods.” Thales also said that the monthly phases of the Moon indicated that it is lighted by the Sun and travels in ratio to it. He said that eclipses of the Sun occurred when the Moon passed directly in front of it. The Middle Ages drew a curtain in front of that perspicacity.
Heraclitus: “You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters and yet others go ever flowing on.” “The lord whose oracle is at Delphi neither speaks nor conceals, but gives signs.” “Nature loves to hide.” “For wool-carders the straight and the winding way are one and the same.”
Parmenides: “Since there has to be a limit, Being is complete on every side, like the mass of a well-rounded sphere, equally balanced in every direction from the center. Clearly it cannot be greater in any direction than in any other, inasmuch as there is no not-being to prevent it from reaching out equally, nor is it the nature of Being to be more here and less there. The All is inviolable. Since it is equal to itself in all directions, it must be homogeneous within the limits.” “Thought and being are the same.”
Philolaus: “Number is the ruling and self-creating bond which maintains the everlasting stability of the things that compose the universe.”
The Timaeus by Plato.
All Plato is seminal. “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition,” declared Whitehead, “is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
The Timaeus is the most mysterious, metaphysical, and orphan of P’s works. It is not just Atlantean; it is Martian in spots.
Whitehead says: “In the Timaeus…Plato accounted for the sharp-cut differences between kinds of natural things, by assuming an approximation of the molecules of the fundamental kinds respectively to the mathematical forms of the regular solids. He also assumed that certain qualitative contrasts in occurrences, such as that between musical notes, depended on the participation of these occurrences in some of the simpler ratios between integral numbers. He thus obtained a reason why there should be an approximation to sharp-cut differences between kinds of molecules, and why there should be sharp-cut relations of harmony standing out amid distance…..
“In the Timaeus the origin of the present cosmic epoch is traced back to an aboriginal disorder, chaotic according to our ideals.”
No reason why an Atlantean text should not contain a harbinger of quantum theory! (The Atlantean aspect of the Timaeus by the way was considered “foolishnesss” by Whitehead.)
The Enneads by Plotinus.
Plotinus captures the working Platonic/Neo-Platonic world-view relatively late but not so late that the primordial inklings of science or formal hermetica have contaminated it. Not exactly “how many angels can dance on a pinhead?”—but:
What is love? What is the soul? What is intellect? Who was Aphrodite? What is the Divine? What is the Supreme? Where is the Celestial and how far below it does the Sub-Celestial lies? What is Matter? Is it Primary? What is Good? What is Life? What is Beauty? What is the Ineluctable Kosmic Law? How do men see their souls in the mirror of Dionysius? What is Sensible Substance? What are the animals? Did the idea of a horse exist before the horse itself?
Plotinus has a purity and simplicity that is impossible to regain. Read him to cleanse and clear your mind of the subsequent West and see, in his glosses on Plato and the universe, how much astonishingly is still (already) there:
Land to the West: St. Brendan’s Voyage to America by Geoffrey Ashe.
Curraghs, Druids. Thule, Atlantis, Faeroes. Greenland. Homer, Brendan, Minos, Quetzalcoatl, Eric the Red, Björn the Broadwicker. Wessex, Micmac, Aztecs, Olmecs. Odyssey, Navigatio. All of these flow together to give a sense of the ancient exploration of the Earth by Atlanteans, Irish, Norse, and other mysterious and enigmatic sailors.
The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations by Cyrus H. Gordon.
Crete, Old Babylonia, Ugaritic, Old Assyria, Hittites, Sumero-Akkadian, Enkidu, Menes, Minoa, Gilgamesh, navigators of Middle Kingdom Egypt, seal cylinders.
To get at the Middle Eastern/Graeco-Roman connection, one has to dig into the second-millennium BC civilization that preceded the Greeks, Hebrews, and Egyptians. The payoff is that the modern world with all its conflicts of heritage, contested melting pots, and bastardized texts comes clear as something forged in a common landscape, in mighty and literate kingdoms long, long ago.
The Beothuk Saga by Bernard Assiniwi, translated by Wayne Grady.
The Beothuks, the native people of Newfoundland, were exterminated by English settlers. If one genocide could be said to be more brutal than the rest—a moot point—this was it. Colonists hunted Beothuks for sport. Yet some historians and priests did grok the humanity of the indigenous peoples and took down oral histories of this great nation during its last decades. Assiniwi has woven these into a “saga” of the Beothuk cultural and historical universe, so he is able to recount the settlement of Newfoundland from a neo-Beothuk perspective.
Although fictionalized, this is one of the most vivid available accounts of native life, including gender roles, sexual mores and practices, culinary principles, hunting strategies, and changing perceptions of and response to the waves of foreigners.
The book starts with the adventures of Anin, the mythohistorical founder of the Beothuk nation (i.e., the gatherer and organizer of the clans into a greater social unit around 1000 AD). Then Assiniwi follows the people through various waves and cultural phases over the next few centuries, using as his successive narrators the chosen “voices” of the people:
“Anin paddled with all his strength. The sky was darkening and he wanted to be inside the line of reefs when the storm struck. He knew how fragile the birchbark was, and that this tapatook would not survive if the rolling waves that were already blowing in from the open sea were to push him against the jagged rocks that lined the shore.” So it begins. How does it end?
“I knew that the Beothuk would live forever because there are still real men on the earth even if they do not have red skins. With what little energy I have I will fight against death until the last breath leaves my body. When that happens, the last Living Memory of the Beothuk people will vanish.”
There follows a “Chronology of Events in the History of the Beothuk of Newfoundland,” which ends:
“1823, June 10
“Three women are found huddled in a mamateek and brought back to the nearest settlement. They are nearly dead of starvation. One dies on the way back. Then the oldest one dies. The third, Shanawdithit, lives in captivity for the rest of her life. She had been wounded three times by musket balls, in her breast, her calf, and her side. She tells about the massacre of four hundred Beothuk on a point of rock: no one had ever admitted to knowing about the incident.
“1829, June 5
“Shanawdithit dies of tuberculosis.”
In bringing a lost people to life, The Beothuk Saga speaks for all lost peoples and for an Earth whose voice we needed once, and still need, to regain the lessons that we have forfeited and silenced.
The book is a penance, a whisper, however slight:
“He waited a long time. The snow had buried him so completely that he was part of the white landscape by the time the caribou drifted within range of his arrows…..”
“One day, as he was descending toward the sea, dragging his provisions behind him on a piece of birchbark, he saw Gashu-Uwith drinking calmly from a stream that ran near his midway camp. Anin stopped in his tracks, not wanting to startle or annoy the creature. Despite his growing suspicion that the bear was his spirit protector, Anin could not bring himself to trust it. The bear raised his head and sniffed the air. He turned towards Anin and let out a low growl, then sat back on the ground, boldly blocking Anin’s path. Gashu-Uwith was enormous. Since he was so close to Anin’s temporary camp, Anin simply sat down in the snow took, and took out his bow and arrows, just in case.
“The two beings remained in this position for a long time, watching each other closely and sniffing each other’s scent. Neither of them moved, and the sun’s light began to diminish rapidly….. [Anin] stood up slowly and, untying the caribou hide that was covering the meat, took out a large piece and walked with it towards Gashu-Uwith. The bear did not move. Anin stopped a few steps in front of him, tossed the meat down, and back away. Gashu-Uwith leaned over, picked up the meat in his teeth, then stood up and walked off along a path through the deep snow into the forest on the side of a steep hill. Anin wached him retreat. The bear stopped, turned towards Anin and growled softly before disappearing around the hill.” Thus was born the Bear Clan.
(Some interesting tidbits: Before the arrival of the Europeans, the Eskimos were formidable adversaries of the Beothuks. Also many Europeans who escaped from Norse and English ships, either because they were being mistreated or out of preference for the native lifestyle, married into the Beothuk nation, and became part of the Saga. Because of this pre-Columbian intermarriage of Europeans into the Beothuk tribe, the genocidal invaders encountered a Newfoundland whose native people were disturbingly “white,” but this didn’t stop them from stealing their land and killing the indigenes at every opportunity.)
Westviking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America by Farley Mowat.
The Viking entry into the Western Hemisphere is an incredible story in itself. Because of the Norse sense of the mythic dimensions of the universe, their sagas have a supernatural, extraterrestrial feel: the meadows of Vinland explode with a freshness and a luminosity such that they could as well be characteristics of a world circling Alpha Centauri.
But there are other aspects to these stories. Mowat has an uncanny feeling for the northern ice, not just as a habitation and navigation obstacle but as a crystalline wonder, a separate universe with its own intelligence and secrets. He lets you encounter the ice from a Viking perspective.
We get to see that access to North America and the New World was ordinary and natural to Norse Europeans. There was no big 1492 deal. They simply sailed in their dragon-headed boats across familiar seas of yore, at the top of the Earth, from land to land—from Norway to Iceland, from Iceland to Greenland, from Greenland to Newfoundland and Baffinland, from Baffinland to Vinland.
Then, like so much else, the path and the knowledge fell into disuse, the settlements were abandoned, and had to be rediscovered—not discovered—by Columbus and Cabot and Champlain.
I have written about Westviking most fully in my 1968-1969 book The Continents, also in the 1975-1976 Olson-Melville Sourcebooks, which were the last true issues of Io.
Northern Mists; Land and Life; The Early Spanish Main; Sixteenth-Century North America; and Seventeeth-Century North America by Carl Sauer.
Carl Sauer excavates the human evolution of landscape—how cultural phenomenologies have altered geological and geographical morphology, then transited from landscapes into institutions, habitats, and occupations; i.e., how the world of nature became the world of society, as humankind spread from Africa throughout the globe. Sauer synergizes a new science out of topography, ecology, climate, and the culture of specific sites, well before such studies became fashionable—hence he is seminal. His is a morphological, phenomenological meta-science of nut trees, alluvial plains, lightning strikes, turkeys, catfish, cod, forests, salinity, pumpkins, goats, and paprika, all in relation to historical and cultural motifs.
Of all the books that we had in our library during our son Robin’s growing up, Land and Life by Sauer influenced him the most in his choice of career. Since 1995 Robin has been a senior staff scientist at San Francisco Estuary Institute, helping to restore a portion of the original environment of San Francisco Bay (and the greater California coastal region) from living vestiges of biological and ecological evidence plus historical documents. Much of his organization’s funding comes from industry, commercial agriculture, and government organizations attempting to reclaim what it is still possible to salvage in reconstructing a healthy landscape within present constraints.
Robin has Sauer’s eye for the layers of prior history camouflaged in a present moment, for instance the geese that land on a soccer field that used to be an estuary. His methods of reconstruction by archives, old photographs, fieldwork, study of settlement patterns, climates, equilibria of habitats and land use are derived, to a large degree, from the unique holistic discipline melded by Sauer. We have a Sauerite son.
Humans shape their landscapes, but they can do so only to a certain degree because the nature of the land, climate, and other biological entities, in turn, reflexively shape them and their emerging culture patterns, mores, and institutions—and this is the case (as above with the geese) even where the land is entirely altered or paved over with concrete. Something vestigial and prior remains, always, reimposing a memory pattern over habitation grids and societies.
Sauer tracks how grazing, fire, species extinction, soil destruction, and the like have tweaked and transmogrified landscapes, for instance in the creation of vast grasslands—the American plains being a prime example. The roles of miscellaneous native plants in the innovation and assemblage of boats, clothes, and houses as well as food and medicine are critical adjunct elements. Sauer reveals how complex and dynamic the eco-historical prerogative is and how it should not be overlooked in a focus on either pure nature or pure culture, each of which is an abstraction from a dynamic, evolving interaction.
Sauer’s accounts of (Northern Mists) Irish, Norse, Portuguese, Eskimos, and various Indian tribes in the North Atlantic and of (The Early Spanish Main) the forced transition of Espanola and the other territories from aboriginal, indigenous settlement patterns to Spanish control and colonization methodically co-relate roles and interrelationships of landscape, indigenous species, climate, and folkways (why some settlements “took” and others were abandoned for decades or centuries). These remain the groundwork for all future discussion of settlement and ecology, as these areas continue to morph over time.
Sauer’s work is prophetic, for instance, as to how the Mexican influence persists in its steady and pervading reclamation of the American West. Just because the United States annexed Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, et al., does not mean that it can ever completely subdue them or convert them to its Anglo landscapes. A river cannot be entirely erased from the topography and climate that created it—culture patterns and migrations (legal and illegal) likewise.
Plants, Man, and Life by Edgar Anderson.
Humans and plants have been in coevolution since the advent of band and tribal encampments. Garbage piles and dump heaps littered with seeds have launched unconscious lineages of pedigree vegetables, converting former weeds into corn, tomatoes, squashes, beans, potatoes, berries, fruit trees, and the like. Such was the advent of intentional agriculture. As humans naturally selected favored roots, berries, leaves, sprouts, and twigs to eat and thereby unintentionally mulched their seeds, they bred their preferred varieties for centuries before the formal recognition of breeding or sowing and reaping. Corn was probably once a wild grass and then, as the sweet and more kernel-rich varieties were preferably gathered, these began to interbreed at the outskirts of camps and in early Homo sapiens villages.
Ethnobotanist Anderson is the forerunner, at least in botany, of genetic analysis for tracing origins. He is continually logging the epochal histories of plants, poisons, medicines, foods, etc.—but the aspect that makes this book indispensable is his analysis of the intricate genetic interplay between primates and crops, between culture and agriculture, as human messages pass through a nucleic glass darkly into what Carl Sauer called elegantly “agricultural origins and dispersals.”
Anderson can scope weeds and wild fields and see both their past and future. In that vein he gives new views and capsule histories of amaranth, corn, sunflowers, bananas, avocadoes, peppers, peas, radishes, lentils, lima beans, strawberries, watermelons, opium poppies, tobacco, buckwheat, barley, cabbages, turnips, carrots, pears, quinces, quinoa, sugar cane, mung beans, eggplants, fenugreek, pomegranates, and their origins in wild, pagan, prehuman landscape. He identifies what is known of their ancestors and tracks how they domesticated into current varieties and crops and spread across continents.
The poet Charles Olson first put me on to Anderson, and then I wrote to the Missouri botanist in 1969 and, to my surprise, procured an original essay for the Oecology Issue of Io, “The Tangled Career of Perilla Fructescens.” Perilla is wild coleus, a dark red weed that Anderson came upon one July on a large gravel bar of the Meramec River near his home at the northern edge of the Ozarks. Curious of its lineage, he traced its history in San Salvador, Indonesia, China, India, Nepal, and Japan, not only as a food (flowers, sprouts, and seed pods in different ethnic cuisines), but a condiment, an ornamental, and an industrial drying oil.
The Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos by Knud Rasmussen.
TICOFIE is oral history and story-telling at its unexpurgated best. The Eskimos interviewed by Rasmussen sincerely explain their everyday reality in a universe in which everything is connected and every creature has an enduring soul.
Rasmussen has long been a seminal text for me, and some of its hottest passages rest at the generative core of my first book, Solar Journal. I come back to them again and again (for instance in The Bardo of Waking Life), for they never lose immediacy or freshness. Nothing in the forty-five years since I first heard the voices of Aua and Ivaluardjuk have lessened their ferocity, simple lucidity, and prophecy:
“We fear the evil spirits of life, those of the air, of the sea and the earth, that can help wicked shamans to harm their fellow men.
“We fear the souls of dead human beings and of the animals we have killed….
“The greatest peril of life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls.
“All the creatures that we have to kill and eat, all those that we have to strike down and destroy to make clothes for ourselves, have souls, like we have, souls that do not perish with the body, and which must there be propitiated lest they should revenge themselves on us for taking away their bodies.”
This full-blown, core-Earth religion, morality, and science are what the civilized world has both spurned and forgotten, and do we pay ever the price for the resulting witchcraft everyday! We still waste souls as well as bodies by the millions every year in factory farms (see Dead Meat and Pitt’s Letter by Sue Coe), and the voodoo of those spirits rides hard upon the people and the land. This is a mess that we haven’t the slightest idea of how to clear or resolve, or the wisdom and motive to begin to consider seriously.
And then there is myth. Orulo tosses back a clear and dignified response to the ethnographer who condescendingly questions the logic of her ancient traditional tales:
“You talk about the stormy petrel catching seas before there were any seals. But even if we managed to settle this point that that all worked out as it should, there would still be more than enough remaining which we cannot explain. Can you tell me where the mother of the caribou got her breeches from; breeches made of caribou skin before she had made any caribou? You always want these supernatural things to make sense, but we do not bother about that. We are content not to understand.”
Sometimes it is the primitives who are sophisticated and wise, while it is we who are babes before a universe of infinite paradox and depth.
Mambu: A Study of Melanesian Cargo Movements and Their Social and Ideological Background by Kenelm Burridge.
In Cargo Cults the logic of non-Western consciousness meets the extant reality of hemorrhaging modernity in their midst: Western self-aggrandizing military and colonial missions with all their doodads, treasures, anomalous objects, flying machines, and thundersticks. The natives must preserve their indigenous meaning set, which includes voodoo, evil eye, shamanic powers, and mytho-heroic acts, but they must also reconcile these with the intrusive presence of foreigners who seem to have all the good stuff and all the real power objects (the planes, the jeeps, and the guns).
“Cargo, a complex notion, is inevitably bound up with Europeans and the things they stand for. In bald and oversimplified terms the problem of Cargo is, first, how to live in an environment which is neither European nor Kanaka, but something sui generis compounded of both; and second, how to transcend the division and make the environment an intelligible unity. Despite the efforts of some charismatic figures the part played by cargo in Cargo movements hammers home the moral that the objectives of Cargo cannot be achieved by excluding white men.”
Since they do not know how the interlopers got possession of the power sticks and totem objects (the wealth, the magic air vehciles that carry the cargo, the fancy devices and splendid clothes), they presume that a secret bargain has been struck between these outsiders and their own ancestors and that, at some appropriate point, the goods will transfer to their rightful owners, namely the local clans. That leads to some very strange and ambivalent exchanges. For instance, Burridge, the anthropologist, is presumed to know that all these shenanigans are going on behind the scenes, so his informant friends engage in sly innuendo with him. Meanwhile he mediates a complex debate between indigenous systems with their long-standing meanings and transient technology with its transient power and essential hollowness:
“‘No,’ I replied. ‘I have no message for you….’
“‘I think that you have got a message for us,’ insisted the youth. ‘And I think you will tell us your message when you are ready.’”
Cargo cults attempt to encompass not only the machines that landed in the Pacific during World War II (the generic Cargo) but acts of inexplicable injustice, cruelty, and violence that were done to both Western and indigenous cultures and their meanings as they attempted to coevolve in independent disjunction, much in the manner of a waking dream.
“[A] myth-dream is a body of notions derived from a variety of sources such as rumours, personal experiences, desires, conflicts, and ideas about the total environment which find expression in myths, dreams, popular stories, and anecdotes. If those involved in a myth-dream were capable of fully comprehending and intellectualizing its content and meaning, then ‘aspiration’ might have been a better word….
“As a concept ‘myth-dream’ does not lend itself to precise definition. Nevertheless, myth-dreams exist, and they may be reduced to a series of themes, propositions, and problems which are to be found in myths, in dreams, in the half-lights of conversation, and in the emotional responses to a variety of actions, and questions asked. Through this kind of intellectualization myth-dreams become ‘aspirations.’”
It is in the context of Cargo that the Sioux and Northern Paiute of the late nineteenth century conducted ghost dances, going into battle against the armed Americans with the expectation that their magical clothing would protect them from guns. This resulted in massacres, as the myth-dream meanings did not, of course, translate perceptibly into protections or miracles, at least not ones on this plane.
The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge; A Separate Reality; Journey to Ixtlan; The Eagle’s Gift; and Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda.
I discussed Castaneda and Don Juan at length in Planet Medicine: Origins, but here is another try:
The issue of whether these epistles from the Yaqui front are “true” or not (at least by the measure of journalistic factuality) begs the more important issue of their deeper verity. Fictions can sometimes be truer than so-called “real” accounts, as everything in language is some part imagination and some part creative rendition anyway. Castaneda apparently gathered and sorted various initiatory episodes and fragmentary reports of indigenous sorcery and magic from across the planet (and the planet’s literature) and then wove them seamlessly into a group of Yaqui wizards enacting a series of parables or teaching tales about the relation of shamanic and conventional Western world-views. Then he invented his own persona as the naïve interloper who, through many books and training episodes, eventually became a shamanic insider and teacher.
If he fabricated these teachings, as seems likely at this point, they have nonetheless changed the perceptions of an entire generation, and they continue to create “a separate reality,” even among those who never heard of CC or his books—as their magical aphorisms, proverbs, and lifestyles have spread beyond the confines of their pages. Could the man have accomplished anything more authentic or influential with a “true” story?
This is the mythic and archetypal tale of the Westerner journeying to an indigenous tribal culture to exhume the lost wisdom of his ancestors, the unwritten text of the planet’s totemic intelligence and shamanic operating systems. Castaneda’s novelistic constructions have a purity, a simplicity, and a sense of cosmic drama that an ethnographic tour de force in their place would not. I mean, what might you consider a fair comparison to these scripts for character development, irony, and brilliance of plot except the novels of Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville? They are as theatrically staged and crisp in dialogue as scenes from Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller, as poetic and prophetic as the more oracular stanzas of William Butler Yeats or Ezra Pound, as wry as the one-liners of H. L. Mencken or Oscar Wilde, as spare and wise as the instructions of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi or Alan Watts.
Castaneda has shown that reality is held together by a quantum thread and that the fabric woven of that thread is psychic, shape-shifting, transpersonal, and transdimensional. But that is far too facile a summary: more saliently CC has revealed the baseline initiatory and ritual mechanism of shamanic training and consciousness. Through the interaction between himself as narrator and his character Don Juan Matus, he cuts through the gossip of whether magical operations and transpositions of spirit outside of bodies are actual or just hallucinations and entheogenic phantasms. In lieu of this problematic parley he establishes that the events are real because they have functional results, lead to actual transformations of things and mindedness, raise humans to higher degree in the universe of power, and contain a fundamental philosophy of the cosmos:
“Do you know that at this moment you are surrounded by infinity? And do you know that you can use that infinity, if you so desire….”
“The secret of luminous beings is that they have another ring of power which is never used, the will. The trick of the sorcerer is the same trick of the average man. Both have a description; one, the average man, upholds it with his reason; the other, the sorcerer, upholds it with his will. Both descriptions have their rules, and the rules are perceivable, but the advantage of the sorcerer is that will is more engulfing than reason.”
What gives Castaneda’s Don Juan, Don Genaro, and the rest of the brujo lot a life beyond the dry textbook accounts from which they were probably enchanted is that their words under Castaneda’s charm challenge the entire Western ethos, not only its view of cause and effect and the machinations of human beings and nature but the existential forces behind all of those. In a series of suspenseful and finally illuminative episodes Don Juan shows that the world is full of magic and wonder, and that the deep reality discarded shamefully and prematurely by civilization is far more meaningful and existential than the delusionary icons and comforts and luxuries of that civilization—and also it is more true to the fate and journey of the soul. He extends a nostalgia and sense of regret and loss to a mysterious and fading universe all around us, as Don Juan reveals reveals the mystery of shamanism to Carlos:
“For you the world is weird because if you’re not bored with it you’re at odds with it. For me the world is weird because it is stupendous, awesome, mysterious, unfathomable; my interest has been to convince you that you must learn to make every act count, since you are going to be here only for a short time, in fact too short for witnessing all the marvels of it.”
In Don Juan’s engagement with the landscape and its entities, everything has a clairvoyant and runic quality and is part of the unfolding of a haunted and intelligent nature. Man’s paper knowledge and overbearingness try to bring order to it, but creatures and spirits have their own destinies and intelligences. This is a magical world that you ignore at your own peril because the universe, from its heavenly bodies down to its insects and stones, is involved in serious and occult procedures and operations and, if you are not an actor, you will simply be acted upon by forces far beyond science and Western power and far beyond your wildest imagining:
“He yelled at me that the rabbit had to die. He said that its roaming in the beautiful desert had come to an end. I had no business stalling, because the power of the spirit that guides rabbit had led that particular one into my trap, right at the edge of twilight….
“I felt nauseated. He very patiently talked to me as if he were talking to a child. He said that the powers that guided men or animals had led that particular rabbit to me, in the same way they will lead me to my own death. He said the rabbit’s death had been a gift for me in exactly the same way my own death will be a gift for something or someone else?”
Gurdieff’s Moon. The message is: you have only a short time in this body in this magnificent desert to experience and learn from these wonders and gain knowledge to assist your soul in its future journeys. Even as you take another breath, you are forfeiting and squandering this. We all are. Nothing to do about it, but it is better to know that separate reality and carry its syllabus as an amulet and shadow against our works.
This is a nightmare but also a thaumaturgic dream.
Stone Age Economics by Marshall Sahlins.
“Stone Age Economics” is a compilation of an alternative range of systems for transforming and converting labor, goods, and capital, and establishing trade between areas of disparate resources, without the likes of Citibank or Goldman Sachs, e.g., without automatically creating poverty or decimating environments.
Imagining how the present global sociopolitical regime could be different begins with looking back at where we came from, namely the economies of indigenous cultures which conduct all the basic transactions of life and society gracefully and productively without capitalism or communism. Potlatch, institutional generosity, mutual aid, barter, and reciprocal trade all underlie unstratified societies, and these do not entail privation or servitude in order to create wealth or pleasure. That is a big misunderstanding to clear up, and Sahlins does it with an admirable edge:
“[Primitive peoples] are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods; above all, it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilization….
“That sentence of ‘life at hard labor’ was passed uniquely upon us…. And it is precisely from this anxious vantage that we look back upon hunters…. If modern man, with all his technological advantages, still hasn’t got the wherewithal, what chance has this naked savage with his puny bow and arrow? Having equipped the hunter with bourgeois impulses and paleolithic tools, we judge his situation hopeless in advance.”
These systems could not work in the present globalized world or manage the densities of populations that the Earth is currently being asked to sustain, but they not only encapsulate the origins of who we are as economists and traders but serve hints of how we could still do things differently if we went back to the drawing board. A good start would be to ask what exactly is the goal of all this population, production, wealth, banks, derivatives, and required growth. We have enriched ourselves materially while impoverishing ourselves materially (and spiritually) and ravaging the Earth in the process.
The World of Primitive Man; The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology; and Primitive Man as Philosopher by Paul Radin.
During my late teens and early twenties Paul Radin served as my introduction to non-Western cosmology. Radin not only implicitly understood the thought patterns and rationales of indigenous people; he made them as enchanting and magical (in a good way) as the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales:
“In the ghost shadow, the wairua, we are dealing with the soul, strictly speaking. It is partially visible but does not possess a material form until it appears in the underworld. Wairua is the ingredient which mediates us to the external world; we would be lifeless and decay without it. We might possess the life-principle and form but we could not be seen…. A Maori remarked to Best, ‘My wairua is very intent on this work that it might be well done….’ And it is in the same strain that an old Maori wrote to Best, ‘We have long been parted and may not meet again in the world of life. We can no longer see each other with our eyes, only our wairua see each other, as also our friendship.’
“Although the wairua could not be destroyed, a person could be killed through his wairua. It was easily affected by magical spells.”
Now, decades later, I realize that this is a true apperception of the disembodied spirit world that surrounds us, far truer than I was able to appreciate at the time.
Radin identifies men of action and thinkers in the primitive world (by extension women of action and female philosophers too). The non-Western “street” is composed of the same personality types as might be familiar on a block in downtown Toledo or Mumbai, but local culture leads them to carry out different kinds of actions and to affirm native belief systems via those personalities.
Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Ogalala Sioux by John G. Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow).
It is refreshing to have a story of initiation from within and to live it, at least imaginarily, in the flesh of the person who walked the walk and traveled the path. This is how nature gets its voice inside us and also, quite separately, how Indian cultures struggled to survive the onslaught of the Euros. What emerges is a surprisingly elegant and pristine account of a sadly vanishing mode of consciousness.
Sun Chief: The Autobiography of a Hopi Indian, edited by Leo W. Simmons.
Sun Chief is the best of the modern sociopsychological Amerindian autobiographies. From the general realm of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, we are transported to another continent and a different culture. This book is about dispossession and redemption, loss of roots and recovery. It could feature a former African American slave or poor Irish sharecropper in North Carolina, except that it is the oral history of a Hopi in Arizona, where there is still a powerful ceremonial culture and mythology of creation left. The government agents and missionary schools cannot dislodge it from its roots, sanctimoniously though they try.
The Lost Universe: The Way of Life of the Pawnee by Gene Weltfish.
Here is the Pawnee universe, inside-out and outside-in, at least what was left of it in the 1920s. Mythology is woven into subsistence patterns; ceremonies and family patterns converge in a singular logic, stretching from portable tipis and encampments to sacred clown chiefs and smoke pipes to medicine bundles to the hunt and Mother Corn. That Weltfish calls it a “lost universe” is warning enough.
The Lost Universe is a simple, thorough, sober book that stands for hundreds of equally “lost” ethnographies collected from over a century ago up through the middle of the last century. Many were published by the Bureau of American Ethnography, the Smithsonian Institute, etc. For several thousand intricate pages on the Hopi alone, check out H. R. Voth: The Hopi Powamu Ceremony, The Hopi Summer Snake Ceremony, etc., and Jesse Walter Fewkes: Hopi Katcinas, etc. Each of these tribes was an entire universe once, a universe reduced to a bubble and then popped. But the colors of the face paint and prayersticks remain.
The Toe Bone and the Tooth: An Ancient Mayan Story Relived in Modern Times (Stealing Benefacio’s Roses) and Long Life, Honey in the Heart by Martín Prechtel.
Martín Prechtel, a man with Canadian Indian blood who was brought up among Pueblos in the American Southwest, ended up getting his shamanic initiation in Maya country: Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. In his books Prechtel conveys the heart and spirit of shamanism as a profound, transformational Earth religion—not only a native spiritual church but a training for becoming human, finding right livelihood, and practicing stewardship. He specifically teaches how to live—live sacredly and fully—and how to honor the gift of existence. He recreates culture and civilization from the ground up, from pots, blankets, and cooking utensils. Others get across the magic, the intellect, the psychic science, the metaphysical philosophy, the cultural symbolism of the myth and sorcery; Prechtel handles those details along the way, but he mainly deals the living bond of transmission between nature and its participants, a bond that is esoteric and yet ordinary. More than that, he translates that bond into an ongoing metaphysics whereby we nourish the gods with our stories, our songs, our praise, and our grief—that’s how we get our real lives. The more beautiful our myths, the more they engender acts of true and original creation—the more the gods love us and feed us back.
Benefacio’s Roses narrates the grueling tale of the invasion of Prechtel’s village in Guatemala by both Marxist guerrillas and fascist militias, “fighting each other for the territory, hacking to bits any villagers who resisted or who’d been discovered giving their last kernel of corn to the opposing gang.” That’s, sadly, pretty much the m.o. for the modern Fourth and Fifth Worlds of the indigenous Earth. This violation of the people and the land ultimately forced Prechtel to flee (and barely at that) to keep from getting executed by one party or another. Leaving Guatemala, he went into exile, back to his native American Southwest, and there he founded a shamanic school, Bolad’s Kitchen, and developed his own curriculum to teach human beings how to live.
Prechtel walks the walk. His writing is always feeding the sacred, and that feature alone makes these books active shamanic documents, offerings on the altar of the planet. Even his description of the Maya’s reaction to the violation of the village plaza by paramilitary thugs is a gift:
“Like wild startled animals, proud jaguars, eagles and brightly colored birds caught in a tree, who were powerful enough in their own ecology, but now surrounded by hunters with a strong and intrusive gaze, we had to know our limits.
“Though their presence was offensive, voyeuristic and obscene, every one of us knew hospitality came first. It would only be our hospitality, if anything, that would cool their white-hot, molten-steel hatred of our smallness and what they saw as dirt into something more solid, less intimidating, hardening them back into their natural cold, unbending state.”
Or on his shamanic initiation in Long Life:
“In our hearts we didn’t want to feel guilty about our heroic and animal natures, we didn’t want to be declawed as boys. Like these initiates had done, we wanted to learn how to use our exaggerated naturalness, animalness, and heroic instincts for something that old women, young women, Gods and men could admire and endorse. To achieve that, to become useful village men, we’d be willing to be polished like pebbles in the stream of initiating fire.”
Prechtel’s unabashed ornateness of prose blends with a severe, almost ominous remembering and recapturing each precise moment, especially in the midst of political violence (of which he always sees the spiritual component). He almost never homogenizes details; instead he finds and nurtures each event’s emotional, spiritual, and human essence, turning every recounting into a revelation that becomes a confession, and a confession that becomes a revelation. Those twin reciprocal aspects move everyone forward, readers as well, into the next phase of awakening to a lost and sacred truth.
Few reveal the source of the divine gift and the direction in which prayers and blessings must flow as skillfully and heartfully as Prechtel. He re-tells myths from the heart out, not the skin in, so his story of Raggedy Boy, the toe bone, and the tooth, for instance, is one of the classic renditions of a primordial Central American saga in English:
“At hearing what the man had bellowed over the din of Death’s hungry children, the world of Death withdrew and stood drooling and shivering in their steps, waiting to hear more about what none of them could resist.
“‘I’ll roll my jaguar knuckles, my four dice, for the heart. A game of chance I have. Are any willing? I challenge you, Ladies and Lords of Death, to gamble for the heart. What do you say…?’
“Clutching his beloved’s heart over his own heart, he ran and ran, again singing his way through the Underworld until he’d cleared that immense barrier of emptiness and darkness, racing toward the entrance to the Underworld where he hoped the old couple would be ready and waiting to pull him up and out of Death’s land by way of the old star root hole.
“He could see the hole already, it was like the morning star in the sky upon whose road he was already running up, when he heard screams and the determined thumping of something coming upon him from behind.”
Our scientific reduction of phenomenological and spiritual reality do not impart our essential truth; it is in the telling of our soul’s stories—dense, coded nuggets of spiritual and ecological information from long ago and far away—that the seeing comes.
My book On the Integration of Nature has a further review of Prechtel’s work.
The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde Kunjed Gyalpo by Chogyal Namkhaf Norum and Adriano Clemente.
Dzogchen is as subtle, chilling, and profound a teaching as Planet Earth offers. You can pretty much go to any authentic Dzogchen text—any one—and find yourself confronted by exquisite, hauntingly lucid, life-altering teachings. No matter how often you return to the same text, there is always more under the nuances and subtexts of the words, pouring out luminosity and clarity, even in English translation. That is how committed and powerful itd source mindedness is.
Dzogchen goes to the basis and core of our incarnate situation: being, energy, source, essence, manifestation, space, action, transmission, dualism, distraction, life and death followed by life and death, karma. The Dzogchen teaching puts these issues in exactly the right place through a penetration of the tantra of existence—a mixture of high philosophy with rigorous practice. It shows how we got here, where and what it is, and what we have to do next in order to move and preserve our essence and dignity in the universe.
I found this particular Dzogchen text and commentary somewhat arbitrarily. There are many, many others, recently translated and being translated from Tibetan as I write, but this gem moved me especially on the matter of self-arising nature and our imperative to get beyond both facile transcendence or facile nihilism, while making use of both as tools of the intellect and expressions of the deep-set and mysterious phenomenon of our state of being:
“Not even the Buddhas of the past found anything outside their own minds. They never altered the natural conditions; they never meditated visualizing conceptually: abiding in the non-discursive state they realized their own mind. The Buddhas of the present, too, and those to come in the future, achieve self-realization through the non-discursive state of equanimity.”
Carefree Dignity: Discourses on Training in the Nature of Mind and Fearless Simplicity: The Dzogchen Way of Living Freely in a Complex World by Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche.
“The ground is Buddha nature…the basic state of all things. It is the natural state which is not made by the Buddha, and not created by any ordinary being either. It’s naturally so, all by itself. That is the ultimate truth. Whether a Buddha comes into the world or not, the nature of things is still the nature of things.”
This is a basic realization, so hard to transmit—that we exist without concept, beyond even the teachings of the Buddha; that the truth and reality have to arise, every moment, from within. Humanity may no longer be trapped as it once was, in an animistic, devious, and booby-trapped world; we now understand, to a degree anyway, natural phenomena and our own mental, physical, and cultural overlays on the world as well as our own habitual tendencies. The Earth is now enslaved through being carried away by external solutions without inner awareness or perception, and that includes the precepts of Buddhism when they are only precepts. Tsoknyi Rinpoche tries to lead his listeners (readers) beyond dogma, ideology, and trope, as he offers a classic Dzogchen nonmeditation method of meditating and of living—a path of not trying to hold onto ideal actions, not getting trapped in conceptual frameworks (Buddhist or other). Even the goal of clarity or “being empty” is a concept, a trap. Instead one must let things be as they are, self-arising, while constantly recognizing the fact of that self-arising nature and waking ourselves back to it.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche continues to find fresh ways to communicate this teaching and the snares that surround it and mislead application. He gives hundreds of tips and practices and insights, whether one practices meditation or not, for breaking out of mere conceptualization into the spaciousness of present being. Along the way, he focuses on breaking old habits: stopping our investment and collection of interest on nonproductive and repetitive patterns and beginning to build a new, spiritual “bank account” out of fresh actions. The goal is to increase blessings and stability in rigpa (the innermost nature of mind), to attain primordial being, and to be directly aware of the universe through empty essence (carefree dignity, fearless simplicity):
“The real bodhichitta, which is awakened mind, is of course already present within us as our basic nature, but somehow it is covered up by our normal way of thinking, encased within the shell of deluded perceptions. It’s not so easy to have it become visible immediately in a full-fledged way. It’s as if we need to plagiarize awakened mind a little bit, by forming a thought as an imitation. There is really no way around this other than to make a facsimile of the awakened attitude. When a new gadget is invented in the United States, in China someone immediately makes a copy of it to sell. The real gadget is still in the USA, but the copies are being fabricated left and right. Similarly, we need to copy bodhichitta by forming the thought of compassion for all beings. There is nothing wrong with that. Bodhichitta is not copyrighted; no company manufactures it, so it’s not as if we’ll be sued. We simply want to imitate what we have heard so much about, the awakened state realized by the buddhas and masters of the past.”
Another point: As meditation tries to focus the meditator on present time, with increased relaxation or more focus, with more will or less efforting, it is often counterproductively working with the “now” as a separate and dual concept, copied from an observation of what insight or compassion should look like and how it should behave.
Then Drubwang Tsoknyi cuts through the paradox of why, if we are born out of creation itself, out of spirit, enlightened and divine being, we should be in such a troubling fix and have to bother to practice so hard just to get by, let alone find any truth, let alone become sane, let alone enlightened; or, for that matter, why it should make any difference what we do, since it is all divine—or inversely, if we are not born divine and have to practice and train hard attain it, how can dead matter cultivate in itself a quality which is not inherent and innate?
“Let’s say that I have just died. The particular type of group dreaming I shall now join—whether it is a hell group or a hungry ghost group or a group of celestial beings is entirely dependent upon the karmic phenomena that I have created earlier…. Once…I am pushed in [a] direction by karma…the karma begins ripening. I start to experience that type of scenery, and at that point, even if I change my mind and think, ‘I don’t want to be here any longer,’ it would be difficult to shift dreams. Why? Because it is ripening; it is happening…..
“Without understanding this important point, you may be uncertain as to what those realms actually are. Dependent origination and karmic experience are very central to the reality of what we are, and they are interconnected.”
Such is, in effect, our situation on Earth and why this so-called “illusion” can’t just be dismissed or popped like a bubble.
Tsoknyi also imports a cosmological component into this idea, dazzling and breathtaking, wherein he points out (for instance) that we cannot eradicate or destroy painful emotions, dualistic mind, or the karma of our existence by any means whatsoever. If we should somehow blow them up with thousands of nuclear bombs, they will simply manifest elsewhere in the universe. This is a profound, eerie, terrifying, and elating view of our circumstance and its intrinsic complication and source. All the more reason to at least try to return to the simple, calm presence of aware reality. If we can’t immolate this trap with our most totalistic and dread weapons, we might as well settle in for the long haul.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche recommends creating room for our emotions, even for anger, giving them space to develop as what they ae. That doesn’t mean indulging, for instance, ‘being angry’; it means, literally, giving space so that ‘being angry’ is no longer necessary or automatic, is no longer “anger” in the ordinary sense.
“There are two ways of being free. One is the general way: when an emotion is present, you use a remedy against it to make it subside and to ensure that it does not arise again. The second is the particular Dzogchen style, in which you don’t apply a separate remedy but simply recognize the self-knowing wakefulness within the emotion so that it dissolves. In fact, one recognizes that the emotion does not exist to begin with….
“Use as a yardstick your ability to cope with whatever emotion arises. We shouldn’t aim at just feeling good when practicing. We must transcend being hijacked by the current emotion, being on the defensive against it, or trying to get rid of it. We reach this gradually, as we become more and more stable and confident in empty essence, cognizant nature, and unconfined capacity. Then we discover that the emotion does not necessarily run us over, and we don’t need to get caught up in it either. We don’t have to prevent or suppress the emotion. Rather, we simply allow it, spontaneously and naturally, to become an embellishment of rigpa…..
“Broadly speaking, there are six types of mindfulness, but they can be condensed into two: deliberate and effortless mindfulness. The latter is Dzogchen’s extraordinary king of mindfulness—being inseparable from rigpa—which can be applied wherever you are, in all situations. It is truly the best. However, it is quite important to train in deliberate mindfulness whenever you are unable to sustain rigpa. Isn’t it true that you make fewer mistakes when mindful? Without mindfulness, you are swept away by appearances. When someone says an unkind word, be mindful and know whether or not you are angry. If you are not even aware that you have become angry, you have already been carried away. With mindfulness you at least know you are angry, that anger is not okay, and that you can do something about it. Be deliberately mindful, and you’ll find it is easier to mingle practice with daily life.”
Read these books; read them again and then again and again, dozens of times if possible. They never fail to wake one up to the incredible richness and surprisingly limitless possibility in the very moment—in every moment.
Fearless Simplicity was my main inspiration in writing On the Integration of Nature, and my text contains many responses to it and extrapolations and interpretations of its lessons. These teachings also continue to resound through the next book, The Bardo of Waking Life.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.
Zen is an empty wordless wisdom. However, if it were to have words set to it, these choice ones by Shunryu Suzuki-roshi are pretty close a rendition to its soundless sound: a spare, empty, absolute wisdom and cue:
•“If you continue this simple practice every day, you will obtain some wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you attain it, it is nothing special….”
•“The most important thing is to forget all gaining ideas, all dualistic ideas. In other words, just practice zazen in a certain posture. Do not think about anything. Just remain on your cushion without expecting anything. Then eventually you will resume your own true nature. That is to say, your own true nature resumes itself….
•“In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do. You will have something remaining which is not completely burned out. Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes….
“So our practice is not a matter of one hour or two hours, or one day or one year. If you practice zazen with your whole body and mind, even for a moment, that is zazen. So moment after moment you should devote yourself to your practice. You should not have any remains after you do something. But this does not mean to forget all about it. If you understand this, all the dualistic thinking and all the problems of life will vanish….
•“When you practice Zen you become one with Zen. There is no you and no zazen. When you bow, there is no Buddha and no you. One complete bowing takes place, that is all. This is Nirvana.”
In a charming, elegant fashion, with full respect to the difficulties that one encounters as he or she tries to accomplish the simplest things or finds them perhaps baffling to the point of impossible, Suzuki-roshi lays out a reasonable pathway to practice. He dismisses easy and glib answers, while making difficult concepts and their inherent paradoxes penetrable. Where some teachers scare, browbeat, or subtly shame, he entices with a kind of open exuberance, a playful jollity or gentle cosmic outrage (beginners’s mind!):
“Each bow expresses one of four Buddhist vows. These vows are: ‘Although sentient beings are innumerable, we vow to save them. Although our evil desires are limitless, we vow to be rid of them. Although the teaching is limitless, we vow to learn it all. Although Buddhism is unattainable, we vow to attain it.’ If it is unattainable, how can we attain it? But we should! That is Buddhism.
“To think, ‘Because it is possible we will do it,’ is not Buddhism. Even though it is impossible, we have to do it because our true nature wants us to. But actually, whether or not it is possible is not the point. If it is our inmost desire to get rid of our self-centered ideas, we have to do it. When we make this effort, our inmost desire is appeased and Nirvana is there.”
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi addresses the question of whether we continue in some manner after death in the way he approaches pretty much everything: yes and no. That we are not put absolutely out of existence is the right understanding but, if we expect to live on after death, that is the wrong understanding. How could you state the paradox any more clearly and poignantly and tragicomically than this?
“We are always here. Do you understand? You think before you were born you were not here. But how is it possible for you to appear in this world, when there is no you? Because you are already there, you can appear in the world. Also, it is not possible for something to vanish which does not exist. Because something is there, something can vanish. You may think that when you die, you disappear, you longer exist. But even though you vanish, something which is existent cannot be non-existent. That is the magic. We ourselves cannot put any magic spells on this world. The world is its own magic.”
Suzuki-roshi grasps the universe—the creation—as the simple yet powerful magic that it is, and he suggests that we yield gracefully and respectfully to its simple fact. In fact, this is our only choice, the only dignity we at our call in the face of inevitable loss, grief, and suffering:
“Suppose your children are suffering from a hopeless disease. You do not know what to do; you cannot lie in bed. Normally the most comfortable place for you would be a warm comfortable bed, but now because of your mental agony you cannot rest. You may walk up and down, in and out, but this does not help. Actually the best way to relieve your mental suffering is to sit in zazen, even in such a confused state of mind and bad posture. If you have no experience of sitting in this kind of difficult situation you ae not a Zen student. No other activity will appease your suffering. In other restless positions you have no power to accept your difficulties, but in the zazen posture which you have acquired by long, hard practice, your mind and body have great power to accept things as they are, whether they are agreeable or disagreeable.
“When you feel disagreeable it is better for you to sit. There is no other way to accept your problem and work on it….
“The awareness that you are here, right now, is the ultimate fact. That is the point you will realize by zazen practice.”
This book is a treasure-house of so many ways of getting to the bottom of things, so many simple tricks to turn the corner and find yourself cleansed and clean of prior complication, however entangling, and suddenly, bodlly confronting the simplicity of being. Suzuki-roshi offers many gifts, all leading back to: how not to lose beginniner’s mind and make the world less wondrous and the teachings merely rote:
“If you discriminate too much, you limit yourself. If you are too demanding or too greedy, your mind is not rich and self-sufficient. If we we lose our original self-sufficient mind, we will lose all precepts. When your mind becomes demanding, when you long for something, you will end up violating your own precepts…. If you keep your original mind, the precepts will keep themselves….
“In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, ‘I have attained something.’ All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginniners…. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless….
“So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, ‘I know what Zen is,’ or ‘I have attained enlightenment.’ …always be a beginniner.”
Even at the book’s end, Suzuki-roshi has clear beginner’s mind:
“Before we were born we had no feeling; we were one with the universe. This is called ‘mind-only,’ or ‘essence of mind,’ or ‘big mind.’ After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from [a] waterfall is sparated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. You have difficulty because you have feeling. You attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing.”
See also my note on ZMBM in 2013.
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism; The Myth of Freedom; Transcending Madness; The Lion’s Roar; and Crazy Wisdom (among other texts) by Chögyam Trungpa.
This is a massive cumulative work—in one sense, a translation of the deep core of Tibetan Buddhist cosmology into Western vernacular, or of Buddhist dharmic psychology into everyday self-help psychological terms. Even more than that, it is a writing of Buddhist principles into accessible, useable instructions in a running, verbal joust and digest that constitute a continuous intimate, hands-on teaching.
The tone of these books, the cutting edge of their sword as well as their shadow, is scabbarded in Trungpa’s somewhat bullying dark humor and fierce vision of his own tradition. He embodies a bit of the drill sergeant in trying to get across his methods, to train American neophytes by devastation of their hopes, by shock, and by nightmare-decible fear. Don’t get too happy about reincarnation either, he warns the trusting devout; you might come back as someone’s cat (or worse).
Trungpa’s personal version of “crazy wisdom” provides the distinctive voice of the text. If one proceeds, in Dzogchen spirit, to invent their own path out of the luminosity and automatic brilliance of their own presence and awareness, then every act is allowed and everything is part of the training, as long it is directed toward clarity and understanding rather than pleasure for its own sake or for self-aggrandizement. This is a lesson that is most easy to misunderstand and misapply, as was demonstrated in spades by many of Trungpa’s followers. They performed a charade of: ordinary ethics don’t apply to this here pilgrim and seeker. What they go from Trungpa, unfortunately, is that, if you are a sincere Buddhist warrior, you can have the wine, women (drugs, and hiphop), and also be enlightened. This led to many Nobel-level abuses and criminal betrayals within the Naropa community—but the same brief could be laid at the feet of assorted other renowned contemporary teachers, yogis, and dharma tactiticians (Da Free John/Adi Da, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Sai Baba, and Muktananda among them).
After all, in this twisted and opaque manifestation, any light always casts dark and disturbing shadows. And you can’t shine that much primordial light without stirring up very gamy stuff.
I discovered Trungpa in 1972 when he was based in Vermont; he came to Goddard College (where I was teaching then) to give a talk. He arrived almost two hours late, so most of his potential audience left. He strode in without apology, delivered a short teaching surrounded (even then) by stern Vajra guards; left abruptly. It was arrogant and brilliant. The talk was called “On the Meaning of Life,” and I later got permission to print it in the Vermont Issue of Io. In it Trungpa said:
“Life is as it is, simple and straightforward, does not contain any extraordinary situations at all. We eat, we sleep, we shit, we bathe, we make love, we fight, we kill people, we do everything. We just live. Whatever we do, we just live. The living is life.
“On the other hand, there is trying to find the meaning behind life—as though life itself is something bad, inefficient, not worth looking into, something that constantly presents problems, something that has to be disentangled, that is insufficient without some interpretation. We look for meaning, for a way to view this complicated life from a different view…..”
This was vintage Trungpa, conceits to be repeated or reworded in many forms throughout his subsequent books. “The Meaning of Life” was also a koan, a riddle, and I have experienced it differently every time I have gone back to it. Now what I hear is the essential Dzogchen axiom: Find meaning in the thing itself. Do not embellish or add on neurotically or parasitically in order to create some other, imaginary meaning.
Trungpa is not saying that life isn’t deep, profound, and complex. He is saying that it is but only on its own terms, and it must be taken as what it is, not as something that we manufacture to honor, inflate, or explain it or ourselves.
Overall, Trungpa works toward breaking our links with self-absorptions, self-deceptions, smugly high self opinions, and other indulgences and adornments of ego—the attachment to neurotic behavior, the distractions of monkey mind, and the miracles and promises of soul and eternal essence in various religions—the god we never meet, the essence we cannot find. He wants to do away with these as delusions on the switchbacking path to clarity. Eventually we will be disappointed anyway because these do not lead to enlightenment or even happiness and pleasure. Even when they are practiced devotedly, they always make one more neurotic in the end.
Trungpa emphasizes that egoic mind does not want to elicit clarity, basic sanity, or its own true nature and the cessation of its neurotic patterns because that would be planning its own funeral—so it enacts fake versions of all of these things and then tries to sell itself and others on their legitimacy and sincerity. As failed practices turn into boredom, boredom seeks new neuroses and self-seductions, clever ones, with which to entertain itself. These come in hidden spiritual disguise and, when they lead to boredom again, the boredom turns into anger and rejection of the practice.
Trungpa insists that there is no hidden entertainment or great mystery behind commitment to the dharma, behind meditation—boredom is in fact a useful sword that exposes the hollowness of ego and points to the goal of egolessness.
I could go on indefinitely paraphrasing these teachings here, but you might as well pick them up yourself.
Easy Death: Spiritual Wisdom on the Ultimate Transcending of Death and Everything Else by Da Free John.
The title has been mocked by those offended by the notion that death is ever easy; yet Adi Da means by this trope that life is a gift, graciously offered by the Divine. It should be received and accepted as such, and it should also returned to the Divine with similar grace. Otherwise, Easy Death is a bible of the relationship between life and death, beyond consideration of reincarnation, but then in the context of reincarnation.
Adi Da is particularly empathic and ruthless in getting at the evasions and denials of what death really is, hence what life really is. It is not his goal to abstract death per se in either a procedural or ultimate way but to elucidate the whole issue of ego in coming to a process and practice for experiencing our situation unflinchingly—life leading to death. Easy Death is a training in how to get rid of emotional wandering and fearful contraction and proceed with the sheer fact of “being” and incarnation and its term.
I reviewed the first edition of Easy Death for East West Journal when it came out in the eighties. A rewrite of that review subsequently appeared in my book Waiting for the Martian Express, and then another version, based on the Martian Express one, appeared as the foreword to a later Dawn Horse Press edition of Easy Death. For more of my discussion of this text, you can check out any of these.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo: A new translation with commentary by Francesca Fremantle and Chögyam Trungpa and/or The Tibetan Book of the Dead, translated by W. Y. Evans-Wentz.
This ancient Buddhist text may be the most accurate, profound, and wide-angled map of the human condition and of existence itself ever compiled by transdimensional explorers. Rescued from the great void, it is reorganized as an instructional manual for dying and crossing over. Similar maps of the state of dying, death, and following the mortal destiny of one’s “being” are offered and taught nowadays, and very wisely, but the original, gestated over generations, has the authority of tradition, lineage, and feedback accumulated and vetted by experienced lamas, brewed slowly, and hauled over major barriers, barriers that are usually not broached, let alone crossed.
Even to the degree that mythology and cultural dicta override empirical reconnoiter, this document of the Dead vibrates with authority, conviction, and calm confidence—and the desperate intention to transmit vital information to those who need to know, which is everyone.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.
Sogyal Rinpoche has written a spacious, compassionate commentary and excursion on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, elucidating and framing it for both modern and Western use. What appears in the simple English translation of the Tibetan text as hints and even aphorisms, Sogyal turns into full phenomenologies and techniques, emphasizing particularly how to practice the virtues of love, open-ness, and fearlessness in daily life and in particular to practice death as life and life as death; that is, to achieve the full teaching and benefit of both. He provides deep and clear probes into the processes of habit and denial in daily life, using death and its constant intimacy and inevitability as a means of enlarging life into something heroic, grand, and to be treasured in its actual mortality.
He also translates the Tibetan version of the phases of dying into medico-psychological terms for practical application. Sogyal Rinpoche concludes:
“Let this book be dedicated to all beings, living, dying, or dead. For all those who are at this moment going through the process of dying, may their deaths be peaceful and free of pain or fear. May all those who at this moment are being born, and those who are struggling in this life, be nourished by the blessings of the buddhas, and may they meet the teachings, and follow the path of wisdom. May their lives be happy and fruitful, and free from all sorrow. May whoever reads this book derive rich and unending benefit from it, and may these teachings transform their hearts and minds. This is my prayer.
“May every single being, of all the six realms, attain, all together, the ground of primordial perfection!”
That about does it. But until then, there are sacred texts.