Meyerism and Unity Church

One of the shows I’ve been following is The Path, about a growing spiritual movement and community called Meyerism (they don’t refer to themselves as a religion). It’s in the third season. My interest has been sustained, even if not quite as good as the first season.

The melodrama has increased over time, but that is probably to be expected. After all, it is about a close-knit faith group that transitions from a cult-like commune to a respectable large-scale organization. It’s a turbulent process with an existential crisis for the community involving a change of leadership. The portrayal of faith feels honest and fair to human nature, the way people struggle and care for what matters most to them.

One aspect I like about the show is the comparison and contrast with Christianity. As the organization grows, they decide to expand their reach to provide more services. Volunteer work and generosity is central to their spiritual vision. So, they invest in a major center in the nearby city, but it is more space than they immediately need. They share the space with others, including a Christian youth group. As a community, they are confident in their faith and so don’t see other groups, religious or otherwise, as competition.

One of the young Meyerists, Hawk, who grew up in the faith soon falls in love with the also young Caleb who leads the youth group. The conflict is that Caleb’s father is a fire-and-brimstone preacher, not accepting of homosexuality. Hawk has to simultaneously come to terms with his own homosexual feelings and those of others. This causes him to question what is faith, what is religion vs a cult, what does it mean to love someone no matter what. His parents raised him in Meyerism, but after his father became the new leader his mother had her own crisis of faith. She has learned to be more accepting and offers Hawk her perspective.

This conflict for Hawk came up again in the most recent episode (ep. 10, The Strongest Souls). Hawk doesn’t want to lose Caleb, but Caleb is afraid of losing his family. Unlike Meyerism, Caleb’s fundamentalist church is not accepting in the slightest. Caleb is feeling unbearable pressure to enter into a program to have his homosexuality cured or whatever they do. In hope of helping Caleb, Hawk looks for a gay-welcoming Christian church and finds himself sitting in a Unity service. That caught my attention. I grew up in the Unity Church (part of New Thought Christianity) and it is the first time I’ve seen it portrayed in any form within mainstream media.

I can be critical of Unity. It is as idealistic and as liberal of a church as you are likely to find. As someone dealing with depression, the idealism I internalized in my youth has been a struggle for me. It has messed up my mind in many ways, a bright light casting a dark shadow. But at the same time, the Unity Church represents some of my happiest memories. I attended Unity youth camps and the experience blew me away. Unity theology is all about love and light. I was never taught any notion about sin, damnation, and hell. These were foreign concepts to me. It is a beautiful religion and the positive feeling and support I felt growing up was immense. It showed me the world could be a different way. But returning to high school after one of those youth camps, it sent me into a tailspin of despair. The idealism of Unity didn’t match the unrelenting oppressiveness of the world I was forced to live in on a daily basis. Positive affirmations and visualizations were no match for the cynical culture that surrounded me. I felt unprepared to deal with adulthood in an utterly depraved world.

Yet that was long ago. For a moment in watching Hawk in that Unity service, I remembered what was so wonderful about the Unity Church. It’s a place where you will be accepted, even the lowest of the low. It’s a church that actually takes Jesus’ message of love seriously. If you think you hate Christianity for all the ugliness of fundamentalism, then you should visit a Unity Church. It has nothing to do with whether or not you want to believe in God or have a personal relationship with Jesus. I can’t say all Unity Churches are equal, as I’ve been to some that felt less openly welcoming than others. But the best of the Unity Churches can give you an experience like few other places.

The Right-Wing New Age

Describing a Salon article by Mitch Horowitz, there is a post over at Matt Cardin’s blog. He offers a summary:

“But the article’s overall topic is much broader, as indicated in the provided editorial teaser: “If you think New Age alternative spirituality is solely the domain of lefty hippies, you don’t know your history.” In just under two thousand words Horowitz discusses such things as the influence of Manly P. Hall on Ronald Reagan, Madame Blavatsky’s promulgation of the idea of “America as the catalyst for a revolution in human potential,” Donald Trump’s association with Norman Vincent Peale, FDR’s decision to put the eye-and-pyramid of the Great Seal of the United States on the dollar bill, Hillary Clinton’s visioneering meetings Jean Houston (who once told Bill Clinton that he was an “undeveloped shaman,” at which point he got up and walked out), and more. Horowitz’s basic point is that none of this represents a conspiracy, notwithstanding the claims of the paranoid conspiracy theorizing crowd”

It doesn’t surprise me. And I can’t say that I worry about the media having “characterized Bannon as the Disraeli of the dark side following his rise to power in the Trump administration.” That said, there might be a connection between Bannon’s attraction to both mysticism and fascism, which could cause one to wonder what kind of New Age he might envision. But the general connection between alternative spirituality and the political right isn’t particularly concerning. As Horowitz explains, that is simply a part of the social fabric of American society and far from being limited to right-wingers.

My conservative parents raised my brothers and I in several liberal New Agey churches, from Christian Science to Unity. It was my paternal grandmother, coming out of a Southern Baptist upbringing, who after she moved to California introduced my parents to New Age spirituality. It helped transition my dad from his earlier doubting agnosticism to his present family values Christianity. Interestingly, my parents now attend a liberal mainstream church, even as they remain strongly conservative. Both of my parents are into positive thinking, my dad being a fan of Norman Vincent Peale.

Religion plays a major role on my dad’s side of the family. My paternal grandfather was a minister who was more spiritual than religious, odd as that might sound. Along with reading my grandmother’s copy of A Course In Miracles, I enjoyed looking at some books my dad had inherited from my grandfather. Among those books, I was introduced to world religions and the likes of the two Krishnamurtis (Jiddu and U.G.).

I could point out that there is a common history to Evangelicalism, New Thought Christianity, and Prosperity Gospel. There are a number of books that cover this and other related history. Theosophy took hold in the US during the late 1800s Populist Era. There was a lot of odd mystical and spiritual thinking that arose in the 1800s, such as the popularity of spiritualism.

There have been many diverse expressions of religion across American history. My paternal great grandfather was an orphan in one of the last surviving Shaker villages, having left when he reached adulthood. Also, there was the Quakers, Deists, Unitarians, Universalists, Anabaptists, Pietists, Camisards, Huguenots, Moravians, Brethren, Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, Amanas, etc. Spiritualism and related practices became popular across religions. The Shakers went through a spiritualism phase, during which much interesting artwork was produced.

Multiple strains of dissenter religion influenced American society, in particular some of the radical thinking during the English Civil War when the first American colonies were taking hold. Roger Williams was a rather interesting religious radical in the early American colonies.

Here are some books that might be of interest, including one from the author of the article:

Occult America by Mitch Horowitz, Religion, Magic, and Science in Early Modern Europe and America by Allison P. Coudert, New Age and Neopagan Religions in America by Sarah Pike, A Republic of Mind and Spirit by Catherine L. Albanese, The New Metaphysicals by Courtney Bender, Ghosts of Futures Past by McGarry Molly, Plato’s Ghost by Cathy Gutierrez, The Occult in Nineteenth-Century America by Cathy Gutierrez, Each Mind a Kingdom by Beryl Satter, The History of New Thought by John S. Haller & Robert C. Fuller, Religious Revolutionaries by Robert C. Fuller, Spiritual, but not Religious by Robert C. Fuller, Restless Souls by Leigh Eric Schmidt, Spirits of Protestantism by Pamela E. Klassen, Secularism in Antebellum America by John Lardas Modern, The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912 by Thomas A. Tweed, America’s Communal Utopias by Donald E. Pitzer, and The Kingdom of Matthias by Paul E. Johnson & Sean Wilentz.

On a slightly different note, I would highly recommend The Churching of America by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. The authors show how, until the 19th century, Americans didn’t have high rates of religiosity such as church attendance. The increasing focus on spirituality was simultaneous with greater concern with mainstream religion.

Another thing that could be added were the Transcendentalists. They had interest in Eastern religious and philosophical thought. Translations of Eastern texts such as the Bhagavad Gita were available in the early 19th century. Henry David Thoreau brought the Bhagavad Gita with him to Walden. See: American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions by Arthur Versluis and The Gita within Walden by Paul Friedrich.

Later in that century, the Theosophical Society translated a large number of Eastern texts. Theosophists came to have much influence during the Populist Era of the 1890s and into the following century. I recall a march on Washington, DC during the 1890s was led by someone influenced by Theosophical thought.

That was a major turning point for American spirituality, fueled by populist revolt and questioning of religious authority. There was a hunger for both new politics and new religion. This was the same historical moment when such things as New Thought Unity Church was organized, specifically 1889. Jackson Lears, in Rebirth of a Nation, describes this era (pp. 237-238):

“Yet the vitalist impulse itself had larger than utilitarian implications. Its significance, like its origin, was religious. It lay at the heart of a broad revolt against positivism, a rejection of a barren universe governed by inexorable laws, where everything was measurable and nothing mysterious. The real problem for many vitalists (and certainly for James) was the specter of a life (and death) without meaning. It is possible to see all the talk about “life” as a way of whistling past the graveyard of traditional Christianity. But the vitalist ferment was also a genuine attempt to explore new meanings for human existence amid the wreckage of collapsing dualities: body and soul, matter and spirit, this world and the next.

“Educated Protestants, dissatisfied with desiccated theology, cast about for vital conceptions of cosmic meaning. Many explored medieval Catholic mysticism as an alternative to the banalities of the typical Sunday sermon, the sort of platitudes uttered by Henry Ward Beecher and other ministers who reduced the Protestant ethic to a mere prescription for worldly success. Buddhism and other Asian religions—discovered, imagined, and synthesized—also began to play a role in focusing popular longings. Vedanta, popularized at the Chicago World’s Fair and after by Swami Vivekenanda, and theosophy, preached by Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, were both synthetic expressions of spiritual ferment. Paul Carus founded the magazine Open Court to carry forward the work of the World’s Parliament of Religions, begun at the Chicago Fair, to create a common ground of ecumenical discussion, which might lead to a new synthesis—a “Religion of the Future” that might appeal to believer and skeptic alike.

“The results were mixed. Contributors to Open Court asked questions like “What is Life?” and then stumbled about in a soupy haze of abstractions. “The truth is, there are, as there must be, original factors in the world…and life (or chemical activity and appetency) is like gravity, one of them,” William Salter announced in 1901. “If we wish to account for them, we have to go back to the maker of all things (if there is a Maker) not to any of the things that are made.” One thing was certain: “The only salvation for society as for the individual, is from within—it is more life.” The reverence for “life” could overcome death itself. “Who knows but that that greater death which sooner or later overtakes us all…starts energies into play deeper than we had known before—that it is the death of the body, and freedom, new birth, to the soul?’

“The desire for regeneration led to death’s door and beyond. Yearnings for empirical proof of an afterlife and for communication with departed loved ones accelerated the appeal of spiritualism. Here was another example of fascination with invisible force, impossible to see but unmistakable (to believers) in its consequences—tables rising from the floor, sepulchral voices, mysterious music. Even William James was intrigued. While he remained skeptical of sweaty séances in darkened rooms, he joined the American Society for Psychical Research, providing legitimacy to the quest for connection with “discarnate spirits.” His interest in spiritualism reflected his openness to all manner of evidence, no matter how bizarre or apparently inexplicable—his radical empiricism, as he called it.”

By the way, Horowitz’s article reminded me of a passage in What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank. In a brief but insightful observation, Frank explains why right-wingers would find appealing what otherwise seems the New Age babble of hippies (Kindle Locations 1998-2013):

“Today bitter self-made men—and their doppelgängers, the bitter but not quite as well-to-do men—are all over the place. They have their own cable news network and their own TV personalities. They can turn to nearly any station on the AM dial to hear their views confirmed. They have their own e-mail bulletin boards, on which you can find hundreds of thousands of them plen-T-plaining about this outrage and that, from the national to the local. And although they like to fancy themselves rugged individualists (better yet, the last of the rugged individualists), what they really are is a personality type that our society generates so predictably and in such great numbers that they almost constitute a viable market segment all on their own.

“One more thing about the backlash personality type: every single one of the bitter self-made men of my youth was a believer in the power of positive thinking. If you just had a sunny disposish and kept everlastingly at it, they thought, you were bound to succeed. The contradiction between their professed positiveness and their actual negativity about nearly everything never seemed to occur to them. On the contrary; they would oscillate from the one to the other as though the two naturally complemented each other, giving me advice on keeping a positive mental outlook even while raging against the environmentalist bumper stickers on other people’s cars or scoffing at Kansas City’s latest plan for improving its schools. The world’s failure to live up to the impossible promises of the positive-thinking credo did not convince these men of the credo’s impracticality, but rather that the world was in a sad state of decline, that it had forsaken the true and correct path.2 It was as though the fair-play lessons of Jack Armstrong, Frank Merriwell, and the other heroes of their prewar boyhood had congealed quite naturally into the world bitterness of their present-day heroes, Charles Bronson, Dirty Harry, Gordon Liddy, and the tax rebel Howard Jarvis.”

(Note 2. “In The Positive Thinkers, Donald Meyer comments extensively on positive thinking’s understanding of the business civilization and extreme laissez-faire economics as the way of nature. (See in particular chap. 8.) As for its politics, Meyer points out that Norman Vincent Peale, the movement’s greatest celebrity preacher, dabbled in right-wing Republicanism, and a famous positive-thinking Congregationalist church in California embraced the John Birch Society. It is possible that the universal embrace of positive thinking by the bitter self-made men of my youth was a geographic coincidence, since Kansas City is home to one of the great powers of the positive-thinking world, the Unity Church. But I am inclined to think not. Positive thinking is today a nearly universal aspect of liberal Protestantism, traces of it appearing in the speeches of Ronald Reagan and the self-help entertainment of Oprah Winfrey.” [Kindle Locations 4350-4357])

* * * *

Some of the earliest blog posts I ever wrote was a 4 part series. In those earlier writings, I covered all of this in great detail and included much of my personal experience. They came from my old blog, originally posted on the now defunct Gaia website. I apologize for their needing to be cleaned up a bit, as the transferal of posts was done quickly, but they are readable as is.

New Age: Part 1
New Age: Part 2
New Age: Part 3
New Age: Part 4

* * * *

Additional thoughts (5/14/17):

My mother’s all-time favorite preacher is Robert Schuller. He is well known for his having built the Crystal Cathedral, the embodiment of the crass materialism of self-indulgence and cult of personality. Although humbly born and raised in Iowa, he became a mega-church preacher in California and thereby amassed immense wealth.

It’s interesting to learn about how California is the origins of the mega-church movement, along with the modern religious right that took over the GOP. California is also the birthplace of Nixon (infamous Orange County), as Southern California is filled with Southerners. Nixon promoted the Southern strategy and Reagan, a California transplant and professional corporate spokesperson, gave it a voice and a face. I should note that the Southern presence was so influential even in early Californian history that the state was almost split in two during the Civil War.

It was in California that my grandmother, raised Southern Baptist, converted to New Age religion. There is not much distance between the New Right and the New Age. Robert Schuller’s prosperity gospel and ‘old time’ family values easily bridges that distance. It’s why my conservative parents could simultaneously listen to the kindly patriarchal Schuller on television, attend a uber-liberal New Thought church (Unity), and vote for Reagan with his culture war religiosity and Hollywood smile — all part and parcel of the same worldview given its fullest form during the Cold War through the expression of Capitalist Christianity.

I recently learned that a regular guest on Schuller’s televized ministry was Laura Schlessinger, one of the major stars of late 20th century right-wing radio. I remember listening to her when I was still living in South Carolina. It was around the mid 1990s, considering her show was nationally syndicated in 1994 (the year I graduated high school). As the female version of Limbaugh, she was a typical egotist who thought her every ignorant opinion was God-inspired truth. She was a no-nonsense Cold War culture warrior, one of these privileged upper middle class white people who can talk tough because they’ve never dealt with a real problem in their entire life.

One time a caller complained about personal problems and Schlessinger’s advice was that the young woman should either take care of her problems or kill herself. I was shocked that any radio host would be that irresponsible, but that was common for right-wing talk radio. There is a heartlessness to this attitude. I can guarantee you that if this person had killed herself, a sociopathic social Darwinian like Schlessinger would have been happy that there was one less ‘loser’ in the world.

Now consider this mean-spirited asshole was a close personal friend of Robert Schuller, having said of her that she is “A positive voice for positive values without equal in our time.” Despite Schuller’s kind and friendly demeanor, there was a dark cancerous rot at the heart of his prosperity gospel. In the end, prosperity gospel was simply yet more rhetoric upholding the plutocracy and defending inequality. It was a worship of Mammon, in place of God.

This kind of prosperity gospel didn’t die with Schuller. It is still going strong. The mega-church movement has become more popular than ever and, with big money, it is a major political player with impressive clout. Some of Trump’s most outspoken and influential supporters were prosperity gospel preachers, such as Paula White and Joel Osteen (along with many others). This is nothing new. Going back decades, some truly hateful and demented religious leaders have openly supported and socialized with Republican politicians and even presidents. Some of these religious right leaders said things far worse than Trump and associates have dared to say and there was no backlash. Republicans have been courting rabidly reactionary radicalism for a long time.

This is not old time religion, in the traditional European sense. But America has always had weird strains of religiosity and spirituality, a hybrid spawn of Protestant Reformation and Counter-Enlightenment. The descendants of this match made in hell were suckled at the teat of American materialism with its dark history of oppression and inequality. Then driven mad through the delusional fear-mongering of generations of propaganda, from Cold War to War on Terror.

If one were feeling particularly cynical, it could be argued that Trump represents the final endpoint and highest expression of American Christianity. But that would be too dismissive toward the religious diversity that has always existed in North America, even if the ugliest expressions of religiosity too often have dominated. It should not be forgotten that the United States also has a history of radical left-wing religiosity as well. The hard-hitting Christian attitude eloquently put forth by the likes of Martin Luther King jr is alive and well, no matter how much corporate media hacks and corporatist politicians ignore it.

There is another point that should be made clear. The religious right mentality isn’t limited to the religious right, for the simple reason that the religious right itself in America is the product of post-Enlightenment liberalism. The American right in general has long been in love with the rhetoric of liberalism with its focus, however superficial, on liberty and freedom in terms of not just of religion but also of states rights, free markets, hyper-individuality, meritocracy, private ownership, gun rights, civil libertarianism, and on and on. So, in direct connection to this, it’s unsurprising to realize the extent to which liberals, specifically of the liberal class, have embraced right-wing ideology as great defenders of capitalist realism that supposedly liberates and empowers even as it harms and scapegoats so many.

Having been raised in the extreme liberalism of New Thought Christianity, this understanding developed in my direct personal experience. What Barbara Ehrenreich describes in her book Bright-sided is what I absorbed form childhood. And it really does fuck with your head. Ehrenreich criticizes a type of cruel optimism popular in America that is superficial and too often used to rationalize egregiously immoral or otherwise dysfunctional behavior. In my experience, positive thinking just made me feel worse, as if my depression was a sign of personal failure.

The expectation of positive thinking can be a heavy burden to carry. This is much worse when dealing with serious issues involving conditions of poverty and inequality, oppression and injustice, pain and suffering, desperation and struggle. According to prosperity gospel, all problems are to be blamed on individuals. It’s the punishment of having a wrong relationship with God, a carryover from the bleak predestination of Calvinism that involves a God who favors an elect of individuals and damns everyone else. But in prosperity gospel, God’s elect are made clear as his favors are seen in this world through material gifts and blessings, i.e., wealth.

I went into some detail about this in a previous post:

The inspiration for her writing about positive thinking was her experience with cancer. She saw the darkside of positive thinking within the cancer community.

This brings to mind my own grandmother who died of cancer. It’s because of her that I was raised in New Thought Christianity where positive thinking is very popular. She was diagnosed with cancer. She embraced the whole alternative medicine field and she had great faith in positive thinking. My dad says she was utterly crushed when doing all the right things didn’t make her cancer go away. She died of cancer. She was a woman who had a great sense of faith, and apparently I inherited my spiritual interests from her. I’ve seen all aspects of positive thinking and so I have a personal sense of what Ehrenreich is talking about.

But what is different is that positive thinking has become mainstream like never before. It’s not just alternative types. Positive thinking has become merged with the early American ideals of meritocracy, and together they create something greater than either alone.

In one video I saw of Ehrenreich, she made an interesting connection. She was talking about the meritocracy ideal, but I don’t think she was using that term. She was just talking about the ideal of positivie thinking in general within American culture. She connected this with Ayn Rand’s libertarians. If I remember correctly, she was making the argument that Rand was a one of the factors in popularizing positive thinking. She mentioned the book The Secret and how it’s representative of our whole culture. She blames the economic troubles we’re having now with the business culture of positive thinking, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

Also see two other videos:

Barbara Ehrenreich: “Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking Undermines America”

‘Smile or Die” How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World

New Age: Part 4

New Age: Part 4

Posted on Jul 25th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
The New Age has some of its origins in organizations such as the Theosophical Society.  Besant and Leadbeater wrote the book Occult Chemistry where they claimed to have used psychic vision to discover the structure of the atom.  Also, it was the Theosophical Society that raised J. Krishnamurti as the coming messiah even though he chose not to take up this role and went his own way instead.  Theosophy was a part of the whole spiritualism movement which related to various occult groups and practitioners.  This side has been a bit lost in the lightness and fluff of the New Age, but the New Age tradition of channelled writings comes from spiritualism. 
All of the spirituality and religion of that time was largely in response to the industrial revolution and the rising of scientific materialism.  Mesmerism was one of those attempts to bridge the gap between spirituality and science.  This is partly why New Agers are so focused on material manifestations of spirituality such as healing and wealth, and why they’re interested in quasi-scientific theories about quantum physics and such.  New Thought ideas are getting some actual scientific backing from books written by people such as Lynne McTaggart who is a reporter on consciousness studies.
There is also an intriguing connection between the New Age and phenomena such as UFOs and conspiracies.  They’re two sides of the same thing.  UFOs and conspiracies, like much of New Age, is seeking rational explanations for the non-rational.

The basic connection is that there is much crossover between those interested in New Age and those interested in UFOs, conspiracy theories, and whatever else.  New Age types tend to be open-minded and curious about life in general (and some more extreme New Agers have a naive gullibility that allows them to believe in almost anything).  I mentioned that the early origins of New Age include spiritualism and Theosophy.  The occult in general is sort of the shadow of mainstream New Age, and the occult is mixed up with UFOs and conspiracy theories.  
I was reading a book by Vallee who is a UFO investigator and was one of the first people to make a connection between alien abductions and traditional folklore.  In the intro to one of his books, he mentioned that he had studied Teilhard de Chardin and appreciated his view.  Teilhard de Chardin is a name that comes up in both New Age and Integral discussions.  BTW there is much crossover between New Age and Integral in general to the chagrin of Ken Wilber. 
If you go to the alternative section of a bookstore, you’ll find books on New Age, books on such things UFOs and conspiracy theories, and books on Integralism.  Also, you’ll find books on New Thought Christianity and all other aspects of Christianity that aren’t deemed suitable for a normal Christian viewing public. 

There is another common element to all of these besides the type of person who is open-minded and curious.  Nearly all of these subjects have some connection to Jung and depth psychology.  Jung proposed the theory of archetypes that has become popular in the New Age, in certain sectors of Christianity, and in subjects such as tarot and kabbalah.  The idea of archetypes does come up in books about UFOs and the occult and Jung comes up a lot in Integral circles.  Jung was influenced by some writers of the occult, Jung wrote a book about UFOs, and Jung was a direct inspiration of Alcoholics Anonymous which was one of the earliest self-help groups.  Jung had wide interests and many New Agers share this trait.  Also, shadow work is becoming an increasingly popular topic in the New Age.  Of course, the belief in synchronicity has been a mainstay of the New Age for quite a while now.  Plus, the MBTI was based on Jung’s theory of personality, and the MBTI has become a big player in the self-help field.
There is another even more interesting side to all of this.  Intentional communities and Gurus are very popular amongst New Agers, but there is a dark side to this with Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and Heaven’s Gate.  Heaven’s Gate is an especially good example.  They were a UFO cult that was very New Agey in their interest in pop culture utopianism and their beliefs in alien/angels that would come to save them.  Many people who have alien abduction experiences are given messages by their captors.  They are made to feel special and that they have a mission to accomplish.  They are often told that the world is ailing or even dying, and that the aliens have come to save the planet or the aliens have come to save an elect few.  You can find similar messages in New Age channeled writings.
Basically, there is a very diverse connection between the New Age and various subjects that don’t seem very New Agey.  Even so, these connections go back to the beginning of the New Age.  Part of the problem here is that its nearly impossible to define what the New Age is.  It includes so much.  And if you follow the trail of connections, it can lead you in many different directions.  Its good to keep in mind that the New Age has slowly been co-opted by the mainstream (eg Oprah and Tolle, and The Secret), but the New Age originated in the unrespectable fringes of society.  Just as its useful to distinguish between New Thought and New Age, its also useful to distinguish between the early beginnnings of New Age and the contempory popularization thereof.  The New Age that is becoming popularized right now is in some ways a whole new phenomena.

This blog is posted in the God Pod.

Access_public Access: Public 2 Comments Print Post this!views (159)  

about 6 hours later

Cloud said

Thank you, your “New Age” entries have been very enjoyable and you hold a wealth of knowledge surrounding it.   And as you said, “Part of the problem here is that its nearly impossible to define what the New Age is.  It includes so much.”  My experience with the New Age and New Agers has been both challenging and challenged, by many people for many years.
Suffice it to say that the New Age has opened doorways to so many people in regards to spiritual unity and freedom.  It has definitely provided the opportunity for people to express their individuality within their personal beliefs and outside of the limits of dogmatic religion.  To me the New Age is a melting pot of worldwide cultures and belief systems, some ancient, some new.  And while it appears that the intention of the New Age is holistic and unified it is also, in some ways exceedingly empty and self-serving (i.e. false prophets, self-exalted gurus and self-important people charging exorbitant amounts of money for ceremony or participatory experiences).
It seems to me that Americans, in general, are at a loss when it comes to spiritual identity.  Structured, patriarchal religion no longer serves hardly anyone but on the same token, to “convert” the God to Goddess is merely a paradigmatic shift that creates a dichotomy devoid of balancing the masculine and feminine.  My personal favorite “term” for this Goddess/God is the great mystery.  It is a great mystery, regardless of attempts in naming it or owning it; no one really knows what it is.  It is not a he or she and it seems to be inclusive of all sentient and non-sentient beings.
My path for countless years has been an earth-based path, paying homage and attention to Gaia if you will.  In my own search for finding meaning and depth to my spiritual essence the Native American ways appeal to me, honoring and acknowledging the balance of Mother Earth and Father Sky, respect and awareness for all of the elements, directions, seasons, creatures, etc.  People who follow this path are often, unfortunately, accused by Native American people of being a New Ager and are accused of trying to steal their traditions.  This thinking on their part has allowed me to delve more deeply into the roots of these earth-based ways and to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt that they have been celebrated by countless peoples the world over since the beginning of time, to include medicine wheels, sweat lodge ceremony, various ceremonial dances, smoking the pipe and vision quest.  No one owns these traditions, these beliefs, these ways and for any one peoples to think they do is arrogant and selfish.
Another meaningful paradigmatic structure for me, and one that has been termed as New Age, are the works of Carlos Castaneda.  The man was a genius, how could he not be, having concocted an entire 8 volume story including all of its characters as a means to cut through the bullshit and connect to the simple, energetic beauty that surrounds us all.  Much of his work pulls from Buddhist and Hindu philosophies as well as early writings from mid-19th century Mexico.  Beyond the sometimes tedious words of his stories lies the opportunity to connect to the magic of life with awareness, personal power, integrity, efficiency and respect.
A blog post of mine from over a year ago included:  “We perceive that we have outgrown patterns and behaviors when all that has really changed is our capacity to utilize those patterns and behaviors in different paradigms, with more awareness and with more fervent justification.”
Let’s hope that the New Age is really what it claims to be:  A New Age.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

Thanks for your comments, Cloud!  I always appreciate it when someone gives a thorough and thoughtful response.

I agree that New Age is a melting pot, and those with distinct traditions (whether Catholic or Native American) don’t like that.  New Age is truly the religion of the US.  The US is a melting pot of a country.  And, even though conservatives don’t like to admit it, there was great religious diversity and disagreement amongst the early settlers and founding fathers… not to mention the diversity of the native religions that were already here.

I don’t know if the New Age is really what it claims to be.  It is definitely something “New”.  However, as it becomes mainstream it will become increasingly codified and commodified until it becomes a new religion, but I don’t know if we’ll see a unified New Age religion in our lifetime.  I think Integral is doing its best to create a unified theology which is one of the first steps in the process.

Its kind of fun living in a time when a new major world religion is forming.  Its been something like 1400 years since the last major world religion formed (ie Islam).

New Age: Part 3

New Age: Part 3

Posted on Jul 24th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

Unity and New Thought denies evil any reality because God is all and all is in God.  There is no Satan and what appears as darkness is nothing more than a lack of light.  Just a false belief and a misperception.  As for sin (original or otherwise), evil, satan, and hell… its all the same in New Thought theology.  Good vs evil isn’t a dichontomy that is used in New Thought.  For instance, A Course In Miracles uses the terms of love and fear: “The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.”  There really isn’t any more that can be said of it from a New Thought perspective. 
I was raised with no concept of evil and so I never thought about it growing up.  Even though I now understand it in the abstract, it doesn’t have much meaning to me.  As my grandmother (who was a Unity minister, a Science of Mind practitioner, and a student of the ACIM) used to say, “Everyone is doing the best that they can for where they’re at.”
In New Thought, God has no gender because God isn’t an anthropomorphic deity.  Rather, God is a spiritual principle something akin to monism or panentheism.  New Thought is the natural result of the evolution of the Judeo-Christian tradition taken to its extreme.  The Catholic God is more abstract than the Jewish God.  The Protestant God is more abstract than the Catholic God.  The New Thought God is more abstract than the Protestant God.  As rationality increased with socio-histoical development, God became ever more rationalized.
Unity uses the term “God” to refer to the divine, but the use of the term “Goddess” in reference to the divine is extremely common in New Age.  Even in Unity, nobody would care if you felt like referring to the divine as Goddess. 
Goddess combines the whole feel of embodied spirituality that is in line with the New Age’s desire to bridge spirituality and science.  The Gaia hypothesis is a case in point.  It was originated by a scientist, but was quickly spiritualized and has become one of the main tenets of New Age.  Nature and environmentalism are very important in the New Age. 
Plus, Goddess fits in with the whole female empowerment.  New Age groups have a high percentage of female membership and women often have leadership positions.  If I remember correctly, all of the ministers of Unity churches that I’ve belonged to have been women.  A major influence of the Goddess strain within New Age goes back to Gimbutas’ theory of ancient peaceful matriarchies.  Also, the rise of virgin mary worship has contributed to this.  New Age is the common person’s spirituality and virgin mary worship has a similar position within Catholicism.  There are many theories why the feminine principle is becoming more central.  I simply see it as the return of the repressed.
So, what is a Unity service like?  There is nothing particularly special about a Unity service.  Its very simple and bare bones.  Unity isn’t big into symbolism and ritual.
There is singing non-traditonal songs such as “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”  Come to think of it, God was referred to as Father in this song.  I just looked it up and I see that some versions have of course changed “Father” to “Creator”.  During the singing of this song, I remember that everyone held hands in a circle that connected the whole congregation together and everyone would sway back and forth.
Unity people are a smily and friendly group for the most part, but I have been to a Unity church nearby where the people weren’t as open as the Unity churches I grew up in.  One thing I remember is that people liked to hug and there was a specific point in the service that was for this purpose.  However, someone told me that Unity churches were much more huggy in the past than they are now.   I don’t know what would cause such a change.
Of course, there is a sermon.  But its quite different from most Christian sermons.  God is talked about in a less direct way.  There is much more neutral language.  Bible stories aren’t usually told.  Nonetheless, the whole service has a general Christian feel to it.

This blog is posted in the God Pod.

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about 4 hours later

Enlightened.thinker said

I love that Bible stories aren’t taught because ones interpretation of the story is sometimes askew in traditional churches and subjective!

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 16 hours later

Marmalade said

I think the reason for this is that Unity strongly emphasizes developing your own personal relationship to Jesus/God.  A text tends to act as an external authority, but Unity teaches that the authority of God exists within our experience (and within the larger world).  A related thing might be how Unity bookstores stopped carrying the ACIM text because it was becoming too popular amongst Unity membership.  I’ve heard it explained that they didn’t want the ACIM text to become the Bible of Unity.  However, maybe they don’t want any text to become the Bible of Unity… not even the Bible itself.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 18 hours later

Nicole said


sandy : Activist and Ambassador

21 days later

sandy said

sending you lots of hugs!~

Marmalade : Gaia Child

22 days later

Marmalade said

Thanks for the hugs!  Hugs to you as well!

New Age: Part 2

New Age: Part 2

Posted on Jul 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

In Unity, Jesus isn’t superior to us.  We don’t need to give the right answer or win his approval in order to be saved.  This is because our salvation isn’t in his hands.  He just shows the way.
In Unity, access to Heaven isn’t limited to those who follow Christ (ie Universalism).  But it depends on what is meant by “Christ” and “follow”.  Christ has two meanings in New Thought: (1) Jesus Christ the Wayshowher, and (2) Christ Consciousness.  New Thought Christianity is non-exclusive.  Most New Thought practitioners probably see Christ Consciousness in all religions.  The language used isn’t important.  It doesn’t matter if you call this Wayshower principle Jesus or Buddha or whatever, and there is no reason why there can’t be multiple Wayshowers.  In New Thought, to “follow” Christ simply means to live your life according to his example.  This doesn’t necessitate believing in the one true dogma or accepting Jesus as the one true savior.  It simply means that you follow him and so all that it implies is that you trust his guidance, that you trust he knows the way.  Also, New Thought practitioners tend to believe that there are many paths to “Heaven”.
In Unity, Heaven and Hell don’t exist as separate realms.  They’re states of mind and they’re part and parcel with how we live our lives, our words and our deeds.  We don’t have to wait until we’re dead to be close to God.  Sin is our separation or rather perceived separation from God, but there is no Original Sin.  Sin like salvation is in the present.  Each moment gives us an opportunity to accept or deny God.
In Unity, we co-create reality with God.  It is difficult to trace this idea.  One of the earliest source would be Gnosticism.  There is an idea that began in Gnosticism and was adapted in later Kabbalah.  The idea is that we don’t merely passively receive salvation but rather participate in the salvation process. 
New Thought types like to quote passages such as Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34.  New Thought interprets as literal truth the statement of Jesus that “You are gods.”  And in John 14:12, Jesus says “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”
Also, Mesmer had the idea that we have the power to influence our reality.  Phineas Quimby is considered the Father of New Thought and he studied Mesmerism.
I’ve read that Unity began within the Evangelical movement.  It doesn’t seem all that Evangelical in comparison to some more vocal Evangelists today, but it still has an Evangelical core.  I suppose it was Robert Schuller who first popularized New Thought (he is my mom’s favorite minister).  I’ve seen many Evangelical tv ministries where New Thought ideas are preached.  What is known as prosperity thinking in New Thought and positive thinking in New Age is called by a different name in the Evangelical movement.  Its called prosperity gospel or abundance theology.  The newest popular proponent of New Thought in Evangelism is Joel Osteen.
The wiki article says…

Universalism is a religion and theology that generally holds all persons and creatures are related to God or the divine and will be reconciled to God. A church that calls itself Universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions and accept other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine. Other religions may have Universalist theology as one of their tenets and principles, including Christianity, Hinduism, and some of the New Age religions. Universalist beliefs exist within many faiths, and many Universalists practice in a variety of traditions, drawing upon the same universal principles.

The most common principle drawn upon is love. (Sai Baba/Baba Speech): “The spirit present in all of the beings is varily seen as that of mind. They are all full of the essential love. Without love, it is all just a pun, without love you can not be happy !”

Truth is also an important principle to be drawn upon. The living truth is more far-reaching than national, cultural, even faith boundaries. [1]
That generally lines up with my understanding of Unity’s Universalism.  The Random House definition says that “the doctrine that emphasizes the universal fatherhood of God and the final salvation of all souls.”  Within the Unity church, fatherhood isn’t a term that I remember hearing much in reference to God, but the general idea of God’s universal nature as Creator has a similar meaning.  The major difference here is that Unity wouldn’t agree with a view that final salvation is a collective future event.  This goes along with heaven and hell not being places that we go to.  Ultimately, Unity teaches that everyone is already saved.  Sin is an error in perception and that is all.  We aren’t really separate from God because everything is eternally in and of God.
There are all kinds of weaknesses some inherent to New Thought theology and some with how New Thought has manifested in contemporary culture.  Most importantly is the question of whether New Thought aligns with what psychological research has discovered.  Some of the strongest criticism of New Thought in its relationship with New Age comes from the Integral theorists.  A book that looks interesting is The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford.  I haven’t read the book, but it seems to be about how some New Agers could learn a thing or two from Jungian shadow work.

In highschool, I was heavily influenced by both Unity and A Course In Miracles (ACIM).  This means that the two are pretty mixed in my mind.  The ACIM was popular in Unity.  Because of this, Unity decided to stop carrying it in their bookstores.  They were worried that people would start thinking of Unity theology only in ACIM terms.  The ACIM has much more of an intellectual theology than New Thought does in general, and so ACIM adds a bit of meat to the bones.  Check out Kenneth Wapnick if you’re interested in the theology pertaining to the ACIM.  Basically, the ACIM is most similar to Valentinian Gnosticism. 
I’ve studied the ACIM more thoroughly than I have ever studied Unity theology.  As I was raised in Unity, I never gave it much thought growing up.  And as I haven’t attended a Unity since highschool, I’ve never studied of its theology to any great extent.  I’m not an expert on Unity, but its essential philosophy is easy enough to grasp… easier to grasp than the historical comlexities of Catholic theology.  The funny thing about Unity is its lack of motivation to push a particular theology beyond a few basic beliefs.  I was never taught what the beliefs of Unity were.  I never even read the Bible growing up nor do I remember anyone reading Bible stories to me.  It didn’t even occur to me to think about any of this.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 15 hours later

Nicole said

Did I tell you my mom has been a member of a Unity church for years?

To me, it has been a way to reinforce her vague optimism without seriously challenging any of her confused beliefs about the world or her life. She, like many in her generation, has not engaged her inner demons, not really heard of shadow work or considered doing it, not worked through the ways she has alienated her children and grandchildren.

It’s sad.

By contrast, you are much more thoughtful and flexible about this. You read widely and incorporate many other aspects of belief in your view of the universe. So it feels a lot healthier coming from you.

Have you read much of the Bible as an adult, or does it even interest you?

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

No, you hadn’t mentioned that about your mom.  I don’t know that it would be the majority, but I’d imagine there are many people in Unity like her.  One thing my parents noticed about Unity was that it attracted many lost souls, people who didn’t fit anywhere else.

I’ve read more of the Bible in recent years, but I’ve never read the whole text.  I was deeply researching Biblical studies a while back and learned a fair amount about the Bible.   I would be more interested in the subject, but I found that the people who were most interested in the subject didn’t interest me.  I joined some forums where there was discussion about the Bible.  People tended to fall into extremes of fundamentalism or atheism, and every discussion was quickly polarized.  And trying to research the subject, I came to realize that there is no lack of opinions but plenty of lack of facts.  Biblical studies has to be the least scholarly of all the scholarly fields.  Even the academic experts can’t agree on even the most basic details.  However, reading the Bible without reading the scholarship is pointless because the translations are so far apart.

My Grandfather was a minister.  He said that you could prove almost anything you wanted with the Bible.  There are so many passages and so many translations, that you can find some wording that you can interpret as agreeing with whatever you already believe.  And its so easy to misinterpret as it takes a life long of scholarly study to even be able guess at the meaning of a Bible passage.  My Grandfather used the example of the “eye of the needle”.  It wasn’t meaning that its impossible for a rich person to get into heaven.  The eye of the needle was the name of a doorway into a city where camels had to walk on their knees to pass through.  So, the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven seems nothing more than a minor inconvenience.  But I’m sure there are a thousand other interpretations.

Understanding the Bible is practically impossible, but I’ve never been one to let the impossible get in the way of my studies.  I’m sure I’ll read more of the Bible.  I have a translation of the Pre-Nicene Texts by Robert M. Price.  I find his translation very fascinating and I’m in the middle of reading it.  I’ll finish it sometime.

BTW what translation do you read?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

ah, but take a closer look at that eye of the needle… the camels had to walk on their knees – challenging for a camel but much more so than many rich people who do not have the humility and courage to abase themselves to a higher power. think of his interaction with the rich young ruler.

i try to refer to the original Greek as much as possible when i’m doing serious study but for reading lightly, enjoy the NRSV – for different applications, I like different translations and paraphrases – they all have strengths and weaknesses. still hope to learn Hebrew well enough to read the OT in the original, translations are inadequate

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Yep, NIcole, you could interpret as such: the camels on their knees as representing humility and courage.  It might be a correct interpretation.  Then again, my Grandfather might’ve been wrong about his translation.  I really don’t know.  But I’m willing to bet you that, were you to research it, a plethora of disagreement could be found.

In looking at Biblical studies, I quickly realized that I would have to learn several ancient languages to even begin to grasp/guess what was being said.  Actually, even many Biblical scholars don’t know all of the ancient languages involved.  Even if you do know the ancient languages, the cultural context is mostly lost.  For instance, an expert in Hebrew isn’t likely to be an expert in the various cultures that were borrowed from in creating the Jewish mythology. 

Yes, modern versions are inaccurate translations of Hebrew, but the OT is an inaccurate translation of the stories its based upon.  Inaccurate translation is how religions evolve.  For instance, Christianity formed because it was able to re-interpret the OT, but obviously the Christians were essentially mistranslating in order to do so.

Lets say a single person could learn in detail all the factors (multiple languages, cultural contexts, and historical documents).  What could such a person make of it all?  There is no coherent whole.  The Old Testament (like the New Testament) was written by many people.  And the Old Testament is based on stories from different cultures told orally for thousands of years before being written down as we now know them.  All these different stories and all these different writers aren’t in agreement.  When we turn to the Bible, we don’t find a single coherent message.  Just considering the New Testament, the depictions of Jesus Christ are widely divergent and this excludes the other even more divergent depictions found elsewhere.

In all of this, everyone can find what they’re looking for.  The problem is there is no concensus on correct interpretation and there is a lack of evidence upon which to base a rational argument for the correctness of  any particular interpretation.  If we simply pick what we agree with and ignore the rest, then how is that helpful?  We don’t need a text to tell us what we already believe.

I’m not trying to discourage you from studying the Bible.  I find it all fascinating, but frustrating too.  I think any Jew, Christian, or Muslim worth their salt, should study the origins of monotheism for themselves.  In doing so, one can’t discover truth, but what one discovers is how complex “truth” is.  I do think people can discover wisdom in studying the Bible, but not because the Bible revealed it precisely.  We bring our own wisdom to the Bible and whatever we find there already existed within us.

The attempt to understand the Bible (if done with serious intent and an open heart-mind) is more humbling than even the eye of the needle is for camels.  And to sludge through the field of Biblical studies takes no small amount of courage or at least stubborn persistence.  People often just find what they were looking for, but its not unusual for people to find what they wished to not find.

Personally, I’d rather look at Biblical stories from an archetypal perspective rather than worry about what is said in a particular passage in a particular text in a particular language.  I’m a person who wants to do something all the way or not at all.  I realized the only way to do the Bible justice would be to devote my whole life to studying every aspect of it, but I’m just not inspired to do so.  But this isn’t to say I don’t want to familiarize myself with the Bible some more.  Its just not high on my priority list at the moment.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

i have known a number of Biblical scholars and am quite aware of the lifework involved in having and using all the tools needed for more accurate interpretation of the Bible. I find it satisfying to work away bit by bit at what I can understand about the Bible among a lot of other ways to come to grips with God and God’s relationship with us… I’m glad you find archetypes satisfying. It’s important to find what works for us.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

3 days later

Marmalade said

I wasn’t implying that you weren’t aware of what I was speaking of.  I know that you know.  I was just expressing my own frustration at the whole field.  Sorry, to sound like I was lecturing.  I wasn’t intending to sound that way.

I think in general we human can know very little about the world… and God.  Oddly though the limits of our knowledge are the most clear when we turn to a holy text.  I don’t mean to dismiss the Bible, but I sometimes feel so frustrated with people’s opinions about God’s truth that I feel like the Bible may be the last place one should look for God.  There is wisdom in the Bible no doubt… its just buried very very very deep.

As you know, I’ve spent time myself studying the Bible and Christianity overall, and so it would be silly of me to disparage someone else doing the same.  I looked into Biblical studies because I’m a curious person, and its an utterly fascinating area.  I believe studying the Bible is worthwhile because I believe studying anything is worthwhile.  There aren’t enough people in the world who take learning seriously. 

Also, its not as if we have to choose to learn only one thing and ignore all else.  I may be focused more in one direction than another at any given moment, but I can study both the Bible and the archetypes.  I’m of the opinion that learning one thing can help me learn another thing.  Studying the Bible can help me understand archetypes and studying archetypes can help me to understand the Bible.  You probably agree with this as you seem to also have wide interests.

However, I do put an emphasis on the archetypal side of things because I figure that if there is a truth in the Bible its probably an archetypal truth rather than the truth of an historical figure.  Actually, what I should say is that both an archetypal and a historical truth may simultaneously exist, but its the archetypal truth that is the most easily accessible… and maybe the most easy to prove or disprove.  And if the historical Jesus was real, then disentangling the archetypal elements from the historical facts will help to clarify the matter.

I guess why I feel reluctant towards Biblical studies is because of the people who tend to be involved in it.  There are too many people with agendas who are seeking conclusive answers… whether to prove some belief or disprove some belief.  I realize that you, Nicole, are a more open-minded seeker who isn’t just looking for simple answers.  I wish I’d met more people like you when I was studying all of this deeply.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

yes, i hear everything you say, dear Ben, sorry I sounded defensive in my comment, i do know and understand your views more and more and have great sympathy for your approach.

unfortunately or fortunately, as people keep telling me, there isn’t anyone else like me :):)

Marmalade : Gaia Child

3 days later

Marmalade said

Its no big deal.  My frustrations have nothing to do with you.  I just get frustrated at times with life in general.  And I’m not good at hiding my frustrations. 

You may not be average Nicole, but trust me that isn’t something that frustrates me.  In fact, I like the non-average.  🙂

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 days later

Nicole said

why hide your frustrations? especially since they have nothing to do with me, i like that 🙂

i know you like the non-average, and you know i do too! one of the many reasons i delight in our conversation, i delight in you

New Age: Part 1

[Originally posted at now the now defunct community on Jul 21st, 2008]
New Age is a more general term and New Thought is a more specific

term.  I don’t know when the term New Age was first used, but as its
used in contemporary culture it seems to mostly to apply to the pop
culture spirituality that was inspired by various earlier movements.
One of those earlier movements was New Thought, and New Thought is no
longer distinct from New Age.  New Thought has become incorporated
into mainstream culture.  Most people who are familiar with New Thought
views aren’t familiar with the New Thought tradition.  New Thought has
in some ways become even more generalized than New Age because its
influence has been so wide and yet so below the radar.

I was raised in Unity and it attracted the New Age type of person.  It
was normal practice to hug people at church and everything was fairly
politically correct.  There was an extreme open-mindedness about it
even though it was Christian… by which I mean that no one cared if
you were saved or if you believed in any particular dogma.  New
Thought Christianity is often referred to as Practical Christianity.
There are two basic elements to this.

First, personal experience is prioritized and so having a personal
relationship to Jesus/God is emphasized.  The difference between this
and the personal relationship of other Christians is that its very
relaxed.  Jesus is your friend and you can talk to him as you would a
friend.  Jesus isn’t our Lord.  Instead, this notion is replaced with
the idea of Jesus being the (or a) Wayshower, a wise and knowledgable

Second, the power of mind is related to the Power of God.  We are
microcosms of God, and as such we are co-creators of our reality.
There is a difference here from some later adaptations in New Age.
This power is rooted in our personal relationship to Jesus/God.
Beyond simple positive thinking, its primarily about faith and the
ultimate goal is in deepening our faith experience.

New Thought influenced the New Age, but it has other influences.
Unity publishes a small magazine which if I remember correctly is
called The Daily Word.  It used to (and may still) have a wide
readership outside of Unity.  I met people from mainstream Christian
churches that said that their church distributed it.  Unsurprisingly,
even though these people had seen Unity’s magazine, they didn’t know
of Unity or of New Thought.  Also, recently, I’ve been noticing New
Thought creeping into the Evangelical movement (practically taking it
over in some cases).

New Thought has common origin in several other American movements.  At
the time Unity was forming, Americans were seeking a new form of
religion.  For instance, out of this same milieu, the Mormons arose.
New Thought has much in common with the UU church as Unity too is
Unitarian and Universalist in its theology.  The Transcendentalists
also seem to have been a part of this quest for the new.  There was an
influence from Eastern texts that were being translated, but there
also was a renewed interest in the long suppressed Gnostic strains of
the Western tradition.  The inspired text A Course In Miracles has a
strong Gnostic flavor to it and it was an extremely popular book in
Unity.  One of the more interesting influences of New Thought was
Mesmer who proposed the idea of animal magnetism, that there was a
power in the world that could be directed for the good of humans…
specifically in terms of healing.  There is a strong emphasis on
healing in Unity and in Evangelism.  Interestingly, Mesmer led to the
tradition of hypnotism which in course led to Neuro-linguistic
Programming (NLP).  NLP, similar to New Thought, is interested in how
we influence reality through our perception of it.

Another interesting American phenomena is Landmark Forum which
originated from EST.  Landmark is a more harsh (almost cult-like)
product of the New Age movement.  Its positive thinking on steroids.
I’ve been to a Landmark Forum.  It had some useful things to teach,
but I didn’t like its morally questionable techniques of influencing
participants.  EST supposedly had even stronger methodologies.  Sadly,
I’ve heard that Landmark is gaining a foothold in some Unity circles.
If Landmark used its stronghold tactics to inveigle its way into
Unity, then it could use it as a respectable front for its
prosyletizing activities.  This is the dark side of the New Age.

All of this that I mentioned has influenced and in some cases been
incorporated into the almost anything goes theology of New Age.
Nonetheless, as I grew up in New Thought as a distinct tradition, I
still consider the two separate.  I agree with some of Wilber’s
criticisms of New Age: the Mean Green Meme (MGM) and cultural

BTW my experience with New Age is pretty wide.  I’ve read many of the
New Age classics growing up.  I also attended a UU for a while.  I
went to massage school where I learned about alternative health and
energy healing.  Two of the psychotherapists I’ve been to were Reiki
healers and one of them was also a practicing Sufi.  I went to a
shamanistic healer a couple of times.  I’ve had my hug from the
hugging saint Amma.  I’ve done all kinds of spiritual practices over
the years.  I used to be a vegetarian.  I have interests in various
New Age subjects: tarot, astrology, chakras, etc.

OTOH I was also raised by two fairly conservative parents who later
became very dissatisfied with Unity.  I went to highschool in the
conservative South and lived in the heart of the Bible Belt for a
time.  I’m fairly critical of much of New Age and New Thought.  I’m
very intellectual and can be frustrated by anti-intellectual
ideologies.  I’ve spent much of my life depressed and can be annoyed
by the manic cheeriness of some New Agers.

I have both an insiders and an outsiders view of New Thought and New
Age.  I meet people online who have just discovered positive thinking
and I have to control myself from expressing my cynicism too strongly.
I’ve practiced New Thought off and on over the years and I still
believe in it, but I also know of its weaknesses and pitfalls.  What
annoys me about the positive thinking is that many people who discover
it feel they must proselytize it as if it can answer all of the
world’s problems.  To me, the most important New Thought principle is
acceptance and not optimism.  Plus, I distinguish between faith and
optimism… whereas, pop culture positive thinking downplays faith or
limits it to personal psychology.

Even though all of these ideas and experiences have made me who I am,
I don’t label myself as New Age or New Thought.  I believe that there is
much truth in these traditions, but I don’t align myself with any
particular tradition… which I suppose is very New Age of me.

Whether or not I’m New Age, there is no doubt I’m a product of this
sub-culture.  I joined Gaia because a part of me very clearly
resonates with this kind of positive thinking community.  Generally
speaking, I like most New Agers as people.  They’re my people and I
understand them.  I’m an INFP which is one of the MBTI types that most
closely fits with a New Age worldview.  I belong to an INFP forum and
I love the place, but the sweet kind pc friendliness would make some
people vomit.

* * *

Original comment section from Gaia blog:

Enlightened.thinker said

Your last sentence is a riot! People cannot seem to tolerate people who are kind, sweet and friendly as they must have some agenda! NOT!

I love this differentiation blog and find it well explained here Ben. I grew up New England Congregational church and taught Sunday School. We did not have an angry God, he was a loving one. After many years, I was attracted to astrology, then more new thought ideas. And growing up in New england was pretty liberal..then at 33 I moved to Virginia, where Edgar Cayce and other readings opened up my mind to reincarnation and other ideas. And the other side was the bible beaters on the street corner espusing an angry God. Who was he? No one I knew!

I attended Unity in Florida and liked it, and also learned about Native American nature thought, and psychic and other new age ideas. I was in heaven. Moving to Texas burst the bubble. I was immediately contacted by every yahoo to come to their church. Churches are on every corner and the biggest one in Houston is Osteens church of 55K members. No thanks. They talk tithing only half the time.

From this space I returned to school for my masters and was taught comparative religions, and loved it! Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam were all taught and I read all the sacred text. I also attended and enjoyed Science of Mind, which is NOT Scientology. They have a daily word too…The Science of Mind Treatment magazine. It is good, but still refers mostly to Christianity. I love Buddhist ideas…and like to pick and choose my beliefs.

I chose zaadz because after living back in New England, I was starving for connections with like minded folks. I have no agenda to change anyones perceptions about anything…I just plain love the energy exchange!

So, as an older woman, I am vitally pleased you have found your “place” as a younger person, and can articulate it so well and bring a piece of your ideas to this forum. I wish I knew half of what you know when I was your age, but then maybe it was not the time for me to know. Just as teaching did not occur in my life until I was 44 and it was at the right

Thanks Ben…your feelings are like mine and I hate labels too…and titles. That is why I will not become a Gaia Ambassador, even though I already do the job of one on a daily basis.

Blessings to you!

Centria said

Ha ha, Ben, the sweet kind pc friendliness would make most people vomit!  This sounds like we’re getting back to a “care bears” discussion….  I actually have a bit of trouble with the positive you-can-make-things happen ideology.  Although a part of me loves it.  I think it’s both/and.  We can make things happen, and we can’t.  Because it’s not just us.  It’s our thoughts and intentions, as well as the Universe’s.  which is why I like it that you argue with “God”.  Actually, the term “God” sometimes makes me want to vomit.  I prefer terms like The Universe, The All, the Self….just because the pre-conceived ideas of God are so darn limiting at times.  so about the time I can’t stand the term God, I start using it all the time, just because.  Although I don’t like the term New Ager, either.  Come to think of it, is there any term I like?    Good question….thanks for this, Ben!

Marmalade said

Thanks for commenting.  I have to go to work right now, but I’ll respond later tonight.

Bye bye!  🙂

Nicole said

hey Ben, i hate labels too…. little tiny boxes that people try to stuff you into, so cramped and uncomfortable in there i just won’t stay! 🙂

enjoy work :):)

1Vector3 said

Hi Ben, I got onto Notifications of your blogs, yippeee !!!

You connected a lot of dots for folks, and I also enjoyed learning more about your personal journey and approaches !!

I have touched into most of those “dots,” too, and now feel that I am not only outside the box, but the box isn’t even visible anymore, hahahaha !!!!!

The distinction that most interests me if it comes to my attention is the differentiation between Unity and Science of Mind (Church of Religious Science.) For example, there is a real anti-energy-healing bias in SOM, which seems less so in Unity, though one might expect vice versa.

Rather than just say Yes Yes yes Yes, and yes again to your many good points, I’ll add a slight deviation or two. I have not been to Landmark, but did several others in that genre, like Context Trainings. They were good at the time, for my development. I have a bunch of friends who have found great value in Landmark, and are not at all into it as a “cult,” and that is perhaps too strong a word, but I too dislike quite a few of their internal methods AND their marketing approach.

BTW “barf” is an easier word to not trigger the vivid imagination……

There are exceptions, but within New Thought and New Age, as in Christianity in general and rampantly in the Eastern religions, I often get the sense that one is supposed to strive for some kind of “connection” with God or Jesus, but heaven forbid you should tell anyone you have achieved it, they would accuse you of all kinds of pride and ego !!! Also Unity is shot through with what Wilber calls “dualistic thinking” – God is very much alive and well OUTSIDE of oneself – and I can no longer resonate much with it; I just get annoyed. SOM less so, but still.

I can’t even begin to talk about the notions of creating your own reality and positive thinking, that would end up being a book…… I won’t even start. Suffice to say I am as usual a heretic wrt any other known system of thought…..

Nor will I venture into the fascinating discussion about the word “God.” I use it for a shorthand, but am writing even now a piece about how in the question or statement, “IS there a God?” only the word IS has any meaning whatsoever !!!!!!

Aley, I enjoyed reading about your personal journey too. Touched most of those dots, too, in my long life.

Thanks for mentioning the Transcendentalists. I think they are amazingly neglected and greatly worth exposing oneself to as part of one’s religious and philosophical education. Can’t say I have done that yet, but based on all the snippets I have read of Ralph Waldo Emerson, sounds as if one would have to consider him as an enlightened human. Extremely amazing stuff, that guy said !!!!!

Looking forward to Part II.

Blessings, OM Bastet

Marmalade said

bible beaters – Is that like a wife beater?  🙂

Moving to Texas burst the bubble.
A bit like when I moved to the middle of the Bible Belt in North Carolina.  I worked a few summers at a YMCA camp and it was very conservatively Christian.  Most of the Christians I met there were nice, but it was a culture shock.  In particular, I dated a local girl and her parents were some of the most backward Christians I’ve met in my life.

the biggest one in Houston is Osteens church
I’ve read a bit about Joel Osteen.  An interesting phenomena.

I also attended and enjoyed Science of Mind, which is NOT Scientology. They have a daily word too…The Science of Mind Treatment magazine.
For a short while as a kid my family attended a Scienc of Mind church, but my memories of it are vague.  My Grandmother (who introduced my parents to Unity and to A Course In Miracles) was trained in giving Science of Mind Treatments.  Unfortunately, she died when I was very young and I never got to know her.

So, as an older woman, I am vitally pleased you have found your “place” as a younger person, and can articulate it so well and bring a piece of your ideas to this forum.  Everyone finds their own way in life.  I don’t know that I’ve found my “place”, but I can at least articulate whatever place I’ve found myself in.

I wish I knew half of what you know when I was your age, but then maybe it was not the time for me to know.
I know what I know because I’ve done very little else with my life other than learning.  I don’t have a career and I only work 3/4 quarter time at a job that allows me to read at work; I’m not married and I have no kids; I don’t travel much and I have no time consuming hobbies.  All I’ve done for the last 15 yrs of my life is buy books and read them.  So, I have knowledge, but I don’t have much else.  You get what you invest your time in.  But for me it wasn’t exactly a choice I made.  I was simply drawn to learning and so that is what I did… and now here I am.

Just as teaching did not occur in my life until I was 44 and it was at the right
Yeah, a lot can change in life.  I could be doing all kinds of things when I’m 44 or I might just still be doing the same thing.

your feelings are like mine and I hate labels too…and titles. That is why I will not become a Gaia Ambassador, even though I already do the job of one on a daily basis.
My problem is I just can’t ever find a label that fits me.  I’m too much an individual and I don’t want to try to fit in with a group identity or to play a specific role.  I just want to be me.  So, I probably won’t ever become a Gaia Ambassador either.

I actually have a bit of trouble with the positive you-can-make-things happen ideology.  Although a part of me loves it.  I think it’s both/and.  We can make things happen, and we can’t.  Because it’s not just us.  It’s our thoughts and intentions, as well as the Universe’s.
Sounds like my perspective.  Yes, its not just us.  And its the fact that we’re more complex than our conscious thoughts and idealized intentions.  Once you start taking a participatory viewpoint seriously, normal causation starts breaking down.  What makes sense to me is the Buddhist idea of Dependent Co-arising.  So, the world may manifest out of mind, but if so it isn’t my individual mind.

Actually, the term “God” sometimes makes me want to vomit.  I prefer terms like The Universe, The All, the Self….just because the pre-conceived ideas of God are so darn limiting at times.  so about the time I can’t stand the term God, I start using it all the time, just because.
My view of the divine feels most in line with the inclusive monotheism of Hinduism.  Hinduism allows for one to worship any particular deity or set of deities, and their gods aren’t jealous.  Inclusive monotheism sees all gods as aspects of one God (which is similar to Islam).  On top of this, Hinduism has many other theological viewpoints that more or less peacefully co-exist.  So, a Hindu can even switch from worshipping a personal God to worshipping an impersonal principle and they don’t have to switch traditions.  I like this kind of complexity.  It fits my ambiguous sense of the divine.

i hate labels too…. little tiny boxes that people try to stuff you into, so cramped and uncomfortable in there i just won’t stay! 🙂
Yep, labels are just convenient ways of thinking about things, approximations of reality.  But labels never perfectly fit.  In the end, experience trumps all.

1Vector3 said

Great commentary.

The tiniest of comments: The classic term is, I think, Bible thumpers.

Experience trumps all. That’s kinda quotable. I like it !!

Blessings, OM Bastet


Marmalade said

The distinction that most interests me if it comes to my attention is the differentiation between Unity and Science of Mind (Church of Religious Science.) For example, there is a real anti-energy-healing bias in SOM, which seems less so in Unity, though one might expect vice versa.

It is useful to compare those two.  I know of SOM in a more indirect manner, but my sense is that they have a more clear set of beliefs and practices.  OTOH, Unity seems more open to different beliefs and practices.

I have not been to Landmark, but did several others in that genre, like Context Trainings. They were good at the time, for my development. I have a bunch of friends who have found great value in Landmark, and are not at all into it as a “cult,” and that is perhaps too strong a word, but I too dislike quite a few of their internal methods AND their marketing approach.

I have a friend who is really into Landmark.  He is one of my closest friends, but I must admit I like him less when he is in Landmark mode.  He is much more relaxed, compassionate, and genrally more friendly when not in Landmark mode.  He finds great value in it, and I understand that its been helpful for him.

I still think that the methods used by Landmark are morally questionable.  Landmark isn’t a cult, but its the closest thing to a cult that I’ve ever personally come across.  Basically, its as cult-like as you can get without precisely being a cult.  Landmark has a very manipulative style of getting people involved.  You just can’t know what its like until you’ve been in a Landmark forum and had the full force of the Landmark followers turned upon you.  Its overwhelming.  That is how it works.  It breaks down a person’s normal psychological defenses, but that is also how brainwashing works.  Its a thin line.

There are exceptions, but within New Thought and New Age, as in Christianity in general and rampantly in the Eastern religions, I often get the sense that one is supposed to strive for some kind of “connection” with God or Jesus, but heaven forbid you should tell anyone you have achieved it, they would accuse you of all kinds of pride and ego !!! Also Unity is shot through with what Wilber calls “dualistic thinking” – God is very much alive and well OUTSIDE of oneself – and I can no longer resonate much with it;

I understand what you’re saying, but this doesn’t bother me.

I see the experience of divine as Other as being a valid and real human experience… which isn’t to argue about the theology of what that experience means.  How I see it is that God is as real or unreal as I am and as the world is, and God is as external as the world is.  From one perspective, my sense of an internal self and my sense of an external world are both false.  Reality isn’t as we perceive it.

God is by definition non-rational and our longing for an Other is non-rational.  There is nothing that can be directly said about it from a rational perspective, and that is just the way it is.  You can call it a false view or a less developed view, but those are rational judgements of a non-rational experience.

It also doesn’t bother me if you say that you’ve achieved it.  I can’t say that it sounds any more rational.  But if that is your experience, then there isn’t much that I can say that would be meaningful.  I really have no clear opinon about any of this.

The “dualistic thinking” part is something that has been on my mind.  I’ve been reading about binary oppositions (in Structuralism, Deconstructionism, and Postructuralism) and their relationship to concepts such as liminal and anti-structure.  The author I’m reading (George P. Hansen) also discusses the numinous which relates to the experience of divine as Other.

Nor will I venture into the fascinating discussion about the word “God.” I use it for a shorthand, but am writing even now a piece about how in the question or statement, “IS there a God?” only the word IS has any meaning whatsoever !!!!!!

I would agree but with some addition.  The same goes for any similar question… “IS there a Human?” and “IS there a Ben?” and “IS there a Reality?”   So, yes, only the word IS has any meaning because the IS refers to experience rather than categroies.

Abstract categories tend to fall into binaries.  But dualistic thinking isn’t exactly the problem because our minds seem designed to think this way.  The problem is when dualistic thinking becomes black and white, and when any particular dualism becomes absolute.  Also, the privileging of one side of a binary opposition is a major issue.

Looking forward to Part II.

And I’m looking forward to your piece about the subject of IS.


Nicole said

and you used to worry about your blogs not being discussed! now you can hardly keep up… isn’t it great! :):)

Yes, I think we are wired for binary, though we are analog beings 🙂 but as you say it is not a problem per se… i try to remember strengths are weaknesses and weaknesses strengths, and so it is with many opposities – just two sides of the same coin. embracing reality in its fullness and enjoying it all…

i liked very much when you were describing your life of learning and learning… it is a privileged one for such a curious cat as yourself… and you seem so contented in it. but who knows what is around the corner. isn’t it fun?


Marmalade said

Hey Nicole, I think your correct to point out that we’re analog beings.  In thinking, we seem forced into binary distinctions no matter how subtle.  But in our general experience we naturally fall into an analog way of being.  The book I’m reading right now points this out.  The Trickster archetype tends towards the concrete rather than the abstract, and the Trickster is wont to blur the binary divisions of abstract thought.


Marmalade said

About Landmark, I was being a bit critical of them.  I know that many people have been helped by Landmark, but even so I don’t know if I’d directly recommend it to anybody.  If someone was interested, I’d recommend they research it thoroughly first and retain their objectivity while in the forum.  Take what is useful from it and discard all else, but beware that this isn’t what someone involved with Landmark would recommend.  From a Landmark perspective, you only get out of it what you put into it which translates that you must immerse yourself in it without questioning.  Personally, I would entrust my mind to Landmark.

I do believe that Landmark could be risky for someone who wasn’t perfectly balanced mentally.  An interesting thing was since I’ve been diagnosed with depression my therapist had to sign a consent form to allow me to participate.  For someone who was having troubles in life and was looking for answers, such a person could become as pulled into Landmark as they would with an Evangelical church.  What I was surprised by Landmark was how evangelical it was by which I mean how much they encourage prosyletizing.

Sometime I’d like to blog about Landmark, the good and the bad.  There is quite a bit of info out there on the web.  I researched it before attending my Landmark Forum, and I admit that some of the things I read made me feel a bit wary.  If my very good friend hadn’t gone along with me, I might not have gone at all.  Landmark is one of those organizations that tends to polarize people.  Some practically have conversion experiences and others feel that Landmark really messed with their head.

Whatever Landmark is, its certainly interesting.  As it was inspired by EST which was supposedly even more intense, I can’t even imagine what that would’ve been like.


Nicole said

very interesting about Landmark, food for thought… and that’s cool to know about the Trickster, such a fascinating archetype – do you have a favourite incarnation? Culturally appropriate ones for me are Anansi the Spider Man and Brer Rabbit LOL! I grew up loving those stories…


1Vector3 said

Sorry I can’t contribute more to your blog than this one thought right now.

I was trying to be as generous and tactful as I could about Landmark, but my friends who have “immersed” themselves in it, even the one who has since split with them, can sometimes get into what I call the “Landmark Robot” mode when they are facilitating groups in other settings, and it is not pleasant to be on the receiving end of.

They are steamrollering, disrespectful, even encouraging of people to violate their own integrity. They have no empathy, they are inconsiderate. Their faces and voices get hard and harsh and remote and unreachable and unalterable, in that Landmark mode. Normally, these are people who are the opposite in their daily lives. So I have to consider the “Landmark Robot” to be something that got programmed in and they accepted it.

They THINK they are being helpful, not letting people get away with their usual games, encouraging stepping out of comfort zones, but I see them running roughshod over people, being juggernaughts.

Not the way I would choose to help someone change/grow.

For those who need a kick in the posterior, perhaps it works fine. I have other friends whose lives have really opened up from doing the Landmark series….. But it seems to lack subtlety, and be a “one size fits all” approach to changing people.

I have not been through it, but as I said, I did Context Trainings, more than once, and that’s a sibling.

Blessings, OM Bastet


Marmalade said

Nicole – So, do I have a favorite incarnation of the Trickster archetype?

I’m not sure I have a favorite exactly, but there are some I’m more familiar with.  I’m fairly familiar with Mercurius because Jung wrote much about Alchemy, but I might be more familiar with Hermes as I come across Greek mythology more often.  I do know the stories of Loki and I know some of the stories of Native American Tricksters.  I’m probably the least familiar with the African Tricksters.

Which are my favorite?  Hmmm…

Well, the Native American Tricksters are some of the most amusing, but I don’t personally connect with them.  The Native American Tricksters are nice to study about because there is a lot of info available.  The stories seem amusing on the surface, but they related to dark magic.  There is something very primal and grotesque about some of the Native American Tricksters, and I don’t know what to make of them.

I find Loki fascinating, but there isn’t enough info about him to have a good sense of what he represented when he was a living myth.  I like how he plays such a central role in Norse mythology, and how even the other gods have great respect for him.

I have to say that Mercurius and Hermes are my favorites, and the two are closely related.  They both have the seeming darker side of the Trickster, but they also show the Trickster’s other side which isn’t obvious in many other incarnations.  The Trickster does represent change in all its forms which includes injury, death, and theft… but it also includes spiritual transformation.  The Trickster isn’t just a clever buffoon.  The Trickster is also the redeeming psychopomp and this is where he shares territory with other redeemer incarnations such as Jesus.  I’m most interested in where the Trickster and Redeemer meet within the same incarnation.

Hermes is probably my most favorite because of his relationship to Apollo and Dionysus.  The latter two seem to be mythological forerunners to the Christ story.  Jesus uses the same or similar symbolism as Dionysus and they’re both twice born godmen who challenge earthly authority figures.  But Jesus took on many of the characteristics of Apollo: solar logos, heavenly being, healer, etc.  Of Apollo and Dionysus, the second is more of the Trickster and this makes sense as he was put under the protection of Hermes as an infant.

Unity prefers the Apollonian Heavenly Christ, but I prefer the Dionysian Earthly Jesus.  I find it strange that people invoke Jesus as a preserver of order.  Afterall, he overturned tables in the temple, and he told people to give their money away and to let the dead bury the dead.  Jesus was a Trickster all the way through.  He was constantly challenging authority and defying expectations.  Jesus was clever and witty in his words.  Jesus spoke in concrete parables and expressed his emotions freely.  Also, Jesus embraced suffering which is a major theme of the Trickster, and he acts as pschopomp (like Hermes was also a shephard).

So, maybe Jesus is my favorite Trickster.


Marmalade said

OM, you hit the nail on the head.  What bothers me isn’t Landmark the organization, but rather Landmark the mindset.  I don’t like aggressive and manipulative people, but of course a Landmark person just sees it as being assertive.  The other thing is that Landmark teaches techniques and I don’t like the feeling of someone using a technique on me instead of just relating to me as a person.

Nicole said

Hermes… yes, I have loved him in the way you say, as psychopomp as well as trickster. and you’re right, Jesus must be my favourite Trickster too. The parables were deliberately tricky to understand at times, he was very emotive and yes, a shepherd too… fascinating… not at all a preserver of order, rather constantly challenging authority. even the way he chose to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” is not usually underlined by the conservatives – getting a coin out of a fish’s mouth isn’t really paying taxes on income 🙂


Amazume said

Hmmmm, great discussion and musings. Just listening in here. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and journeys. Thank you Ben, for creating this space to share.  I agree whole heartedly with OM that ”experience trumps all” is quotable, and with everyone who likes to avoid labels. Labels indeed are toxic.

People have asked me ‘what my children are’ within an ‘interfaith marriage’, of parents who grew up on completely different continents (one in Africa, one in Europe). If people insisted, as they were frantically looking to wrap their busy minds around something, I opted with a big smile: “I suppose you could say my kids are mutts”. Still sometimes people would not give up and tell me “you have to choose for your kids sake”. I am so very glad I did not. As I have come into my own experience, my kids have too. I am with Kahlil Gibran to allow my kids to have their own thoughts, although mass media has a whole other agenda, and I’m doing my darndest to minimize that influence.

Also, I enjoy shopping around in the different flavors and colors of what God, Goddess, the Divine experience looks like. Never really buying into any established belief system, yet really open and eager to experience truth. This happens a lot when I’m in a zone, working with clients doing energy work. People who have passed on show up sometimes, and even Jesus, and Mary. Atheists could argue these images could be figments of my client’s imagination I picked up, yet experience has taught me that what you can imagine is true.


Marmalade said

Howdy Amazume!

Your way of raising your kids sounds healthy to me.  My parents are pretty conservative and have strong opinions about many things, but even so they let me make up my own mind and make my own mistakes.  🙂

I do sense there is a truth to what may appear as mere imagination.  Nonetheless, I’m a questioning kind of guy and so I can’t help but wonder what kind of truth it may be.  I personally have never had a vision of Jesus or anything similar.  But if I did have such an experience, I’d tentatively accept it for what it was… oh, who am I kidding… I’d analyze to death.  :):)

I have had strange experiences and its hard to know what to make of them.

Nicole said

of course you’d analyse to death! that’s what you do best – hug.

amazume, great to see you here and hear your thoughts…


Amazume said

Hi Ben, and Nicole,

Thanks for your responses. I too can wear that analytical hat and enjoy it. Yet, I have learned not to explain away the magic. Some questions are simply answered by: where there is love, there is no question.


Marmalade said

Hi Amazume,

I’m not for explaining away the magic.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I tend to have more questions than answers.  I don’t feel my intellectuality and my sense of wonder are in conflict.  When I’m most engaged with contamplating something, my sense of wonder directs and inspires my intellect.  I think in terms of possibilities.

where there is love, there is no question.

I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I might have to part ways with you on that one.  I love questions.  So, for me, where there is love, there are questions because my questioning is fueled by wonder.  Love need not be an answer.  My purpose for questioning isn’t to find conclusive answers.   Related to this viewpoint is my attitude that doubt strengthens faith, and so my faith is defined by my ability to be open to doubt.

Also, questiong for me is a simple matter of my having an insatiable curiosity.  Questioning is my normal mode of being.  My mom says I was asking philosophical questions when I was a little kid.  Plus, I have a love of learning and a strong idealization of truth.  I want to know about the world, about people, about God.  My studying is my spiritual practice.

Still, I might understand what you’re pointing at.  There are moments where my mind becomes quiet and empty, and not even wonder disturbs it.


Nicole said

i can just imagine the kinds of questions you asked as a kid! 🙂

love may be an answer, it may be a question, it may be so many things… love is so complex, life and people are complex…


Amazume said

Hi Ben,

You say: ”I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I might have to part ways with you on that one.  I love questions

I do too! So no need to part ways here 😉

There are moments where my mind becomes quiet and empty, and not even wonder disturbs it.” Exactly! At moments like that one can feel completely at one with all there is. At such moments the (energy) body becomes one with the frequency of a love vibration, and it simply is so fulfilling that no question will even come up.

And yes, please do keep your sense of wonder, which often is a great portal to those moments of blissful stillness.



1Vector3 said

Interesting similarities! Among my descriptions of my experience of that state, or what might be the same state, is

“There are no answers, because there are no questions.”

But for me it has the sensation of fullness, even while there is that emptiness/absence of all seeking, of all searching, of all movement toward anything, of any sense of incompleteness or unknowing.

Blessings, OM Bastet


Centria said

OM, I just wrote a poem about qestions and answers on my blog:
I LOVE that line you just wrote  “There are no answers, because there are no questions.”
Dear Ben, thank you for facilitating this rich discussion!

I love so much how you express yourself.  🙂

Just Some Related Ideas and Writers

I tend to think in terms of connections, but when writing about any particular subject I’ll only be emphasizing certain connections.  Still, all the other connections are at the background of what I’m trying to convey.  A minor frustration is all of this background can’t easily be conveyed and so what gets communicated is simply an uprooted plant.  So, this post will be my humble attempt to elucidate this web of ideas, subjects, traditions, and writers.  But of equal importance I wish to demonstrate that these connections exist outside of my mind in the actual world… meaning in other people’s minds as well.


The Beginning: Historical Context

A) Ancient World: Religion and Philosophy

So as to be orderly in my presentation, let me start at the beginning… not the beginning of my own thinking but rather the beginning of the Western tradition.  I’ve already written about much of this in prior posts (for example: Graeco-Roman Tradition, Development of Christian Mysticism, and Mani’s Influence).  My thinking about this subject is informed by authors such as Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock), Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Tom Harpur, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy; and I would also add Karen Armstrong and Richard Tarnas

Basically, during the Axial Age, Greek and Egyptian thought formed Hellenism which was later incorporated into and formalized by Roman culture.  At around this time and before, Jews were being influenced by Hellenism and the culmination of this was the Alexandrian Jewish community.  Jews had in the past been influenced by many cultures, borrowing wholesale at times some of their myths and theologies (including maybe Monotheism which was an idea both in the Egyptian and Greek traditions).  Mixed in with all of these were Persian influences such as Zoroastrianism.  Out of this, Christianity arose precisely with the arising of Rome.  Romans brought the synthesizing of Hellenism to a new level and they were constantly seeking a universal religion to unite the empire, such as Serapis worship, Pax Romana, and Romanized Christianity… of course these Roman universal religions themselves became mixed over the early centuries of the common era. 

Anyways, Gnosticism was either the origin of Christianity or else one of the earliest influences on Christianity.  Gnosticism was connected with the traditions of NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism.  An interesting aspect of Gnosticism is that it’s adherents sometimes used scientific knowledge to explain some of it’s theology.  This merging of the spiritual and the scientific would be carried on in various traditions.  Besides Gnosticism and Hermeticism, the offspring traditions Cabala and Alchemy speculated to great degrees about the physical world.  This line of thought seems to have been particularly focused in Germany.  The German mystics helped many of these ideas to survive.  These mystics emphasized the sympathy between the microcosm and the macrocosm and also the merging between the subjective and the objective.  The Reformationists were influenced by all of this even though they focused less on the mystical.  Paracelsus lived during the Reformation and was influenced by both the mystic tradition and the Reformation (which he didn’t identify with).  Most directly, he initially was more interested in science and medicine.  This led to Paracelsus’ theorizing about Gnostic ideas such as planetary influences (although he denied Gnosticism).  Paracelsus also believed in a universal healing energy and he is also credited for the first mention of the unconscious.

B) Post-Reformation: Early Development of Modern Traditions

This was also the time of the Renaissance and science was just beginning to come into its own, but science wouldn’t be fully formed until the Enlightenment.  During this latter period, Franz Mesmer developed a theory and methodology along the lines of Paracelsus’ writings.  Paracelsus’ ideas did become more popular a couple of centuries after his death, but I don’t know if his ideas had a direct influence on Mesmer.  Still, they’re a part of the same general philosophical lineage.  Mesmer did speculate about planetary influences, but he is most famous for his theory about animal magnetism which was a supposed healing energy.  This was the origin of what later would be called hypnotism which was much later developed, partially through the example of the Freudian Erik Erikson, into the methodology of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). 

Hypnotism was introduced into popular culture through writers such as Edgar Allan Poe.  Mesmerism was an early origin to spiritualism.  As such, it isn’t surprising that Poe in one of his stories had a character use hypnotism as a way of keeping a corpse alive.  Another concept that came from Mesmerism was the double which also was incorporated into the Horror genre, notably in the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman

Hypnotism as a psycho-therapeutic technique had been taken up by a number of people during and after Mesmer’s life.  Many decades later, Freud would learn hypnotism.  The ideas of sexual repression and hysteria were a part of the tradition of Mesmer’s methodology and these would be taken up by Freud.  Also, Freud had an interest in the unconscious which would seem to also to have been related to these kinds of ideas.  One of Freud’s followers was Wilhelm Reich who had a particular interest in the area of sexuality and healing energies.  He proposed the notion of Orgone energy which is reminiscent of both the ideas of Mesmer and Paracelsus.  Orgone is no longer reputable, but like Mesmer it has become a part of popular culture.  William S. Burroughs was a believer in Orgone energy (and spirituality in general as he considered himself a Manichean and was a Scientologist for a time).  Jack Kerouac mentioned Burroughs’ Orgone accumulator in one of his books and supposedly Grant Morrison (by way of Burroughs?) imagined Orgone energy as being real in one of his fictional worlds.

Mesmer‘s beliefs about healing energy accessible to all was also a major influence (via Phineas Quimby) on New Thought Christianity.  This Christian movement was also influenced by Swedenborg and more importantly by the very ancient ideas of Unitarianism and Universalism.  New Thought was a part of a larger social movement of people seeking a new form of spirituality after the Enlightenment had challenged so many traditional religious certainties and the Industrial Age was generally destabilizing culture.  Another set of ideas that probably was influential on New Thought would be that of Romanticism and Transcendentalism.  The latter in particular was a part of the same social milieu in the US at that time.  Specific organizations that appeared during this period were Unity church, Christian Science, Mormonism and the Theosophical Society.  Also, groups like the Quakers and Shakers became popular in the U.S. later in the 19th century partly in response to the social destabilization of the Civil War.  (By the way, New Thought Christianity has somewhat covertly made a resurgence with it’s incorporation into the mainstream through such things as The Secret and even more interestingly through Evangelical Christianity.  Positive thinking or prosperity thinking is known by Evangelicals as abundance theology or prosperity gospel.)

This collective search for the spiritual during the 19th century (and into the early 20th century) was being fueled by many things including the translation and publishing of many ancient texts (both Western and Eastern).  In biblical studies, some scholars picked up the earlier Enlightenment criticisms of Christianity (despite the fear of punishment by the church still being at the time very real in some places).  With many new texts available, comparative mythology caused quite a stir.  One major force in this scholarship was the publications coming out of the Theosophical Society, in particular those of G.R.S. Mead.  This school of thought mostly died out in biblical studies, but it was kept alive by comparative mythologists and psychologists.  It has, however, been revived in recent decades by a small growing sector of biblical scholars and has been made popular (if not exactly respectable) by the film Zeitgeist.


Freud, Jung and Others

Optimism and Pessimism, Religion and Horror

A major figure who was influenced by all of this was Carl Jung (who was the most significant force behind the Nag Hammadi texts getting translated and published).  Even though he was the most favored student of Freud, Jung had developed much of his own thinking prior to their meeting.  They both had great impact on each other, but of course (like many of Freud’s students such as Reich and Adler) Jung left Freud.  The Freudian and Jungian schools are an interesting contrast.  This partly a difference of how they related to the world in general which seems to symbolized by how they related to patients.  Freud had patients face away from him, but Jung (and Reich) chose to have their patients face them. 

Also, I can look at a book’s table of contents and make a good guess about whether the author will likely quote Freud or Jung.  Books that quote Freud tend to be about sexuality, gender, politics, power, the underprivileged, postmodernism, and textual criticism.  Books that quote Jung often involve the topics of spirituality, religion, mythology, ancient traditions, philosophy and the supernatural.  There is much crossover between the two and so it isn’t unusual to find both names in the same book, but still books that extensively quote Jung are more likely to mention Freud as well rather than the other way around.  Both Jung and Freud have influenced artists and fiction writers.  Herman Hesse, for instance, knew Jung and used his ideas in some of his fiction.  Freud’s obsession with sexuality, of course, was an interest to many creative types.  Burroughs‘ view on sexuality seems fairly Freudian.  Another angle is that Freud was less optimistic about human nature.  I was reading how Peter Wessel Zapffe’s Pessimistic philosophy is indebted to Freud and Zapffe is a major source of the horror writer Thomas Ligotti‘s view on life.  Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by Jung and PKD has relatively more of a hopeful bent (however, PKD also had a very dark side and was friends with darker fiction writers such as Harlan Ellison).  This distinction between a tendency towards pessimism versus optimism, I would add, appears related to the fact that Freud was very critical of religion and Jung maintained respect for religion his whole life (or at least the ideas and stories of religion if not the institution itself).

One further aspect is Jung‘s development of personality typology which came about by his trying to understand the differences between Adler and Freud and his trying to understand the reasons for his conflict with Freud.  Typology was particularly put into the context of a very optimistic philosophy with the MBTI which is all about understanding others and improving oneself.  Even though typology became a tool of corporate America, it has its roots in the ideas of centuries of philosophers such as Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Apollonian.  Typology is the closest that Jung’s ideas have come to academic respectability.  (However, his theory on archetypes is slowly gaining respectability simply by the force of its wide influence, and its important to note that there was always a connection between Jung’s thinking about typology and archetypes.)  With the systematization in MBTI, Jung’s typology has been scientifically researched and correlated with other research on personality theories.  For my purposes, I’ll point out that his typology probably influenced some of Hesse‘s thinking and I know that Philip K. Dick was familiar with it, but typology overall hasn’t been a favorite topic of most philosophical and spiritual thinkers.  Even so, the creation of distinct categories of people is a very old notion (in the West and in other cultures).  For a relevant example, certain Gnostics (e.g., Valentinians) divided people into three categories, but later Christians seem to have preferred the simpler categorization of damned versus saved.  In secular writing, George P. Hansen is a rare thinker who considers types (Ernest Hartmann‘s boundary types which are correlated to MBTI) in terms of paranormal experience and cultural analysis, but I don’t know if he is familiar with Jung’s typology although he does reference Jung a fair amount.  A more amusing example is William S. Burroughs‘ dividing the world up into the Johnson Family and the Shits.

Like Freud, Jung had a strong interest in the unconscious which (along with his many other interests) definitely puts him in the tradition of Paracelsus and Mesmer.  It would almost be easier to list what Jung didn’t study rather than what he did.  He certainly was interested in the same types of subjects that are now included in the New Age movement (which isn’t surprising as Jungian ideas are a major interest of many New Agers).  Specific to my purposes here, Jung often quoted G.R.S. Mead and was also immensely curious about spiritualism.  Jung’s influence is immense, despite his fame being slightly overshadowed by Freud. 

An aspect not often considered is Jung‘s influence on Christianity (which I assume was largely his interest in Mead’s writing).  His family was very much entrenched within Christianity and so Jung was obsessed with it his whole life.  The book he considered his most personal was written about Christianity (i.e., Answer to Job).  Jung had a fruitful relationship with Father White who himself was a writer.  Jung’s ideas became incorporated into Father White’s writings about Catholicism.  Despite Jung not being Catholic or even Christian, his ideas gave a certain respectability to the Catholic emphasis on symbolism and imagery, but it’s hard to estimate Jung’s influence on Catholic thinking.  The most direct influence in this regard would be on the InklingsC.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who were Christians also felt some kinship with Jung’s ideas, but of course they disagreed with Jung’s putting Christianity on the same level as Pagan myths (as such, his theory was simply a myth explaining other myths rather than God’s truth).  Through Jung and Lewis, theology became more of a topic of popular culture.  Also, Lewis helped bridge the separation between the Pagan imagination of Romanticism and Christian doctrine which was furthermore a bridge between theological ideas and fiction.  This bridging obviously influenced later writers such as Philip K. Dick who combined fiction and theology.  The popularizing of Christianity had a corroding effect on orthodoxy (which Tolkien feared), but also it led to a great fertility of thinking where Christianity and popular culture mixed.  I’m sure many Christians have discovered Jung through the Inklings, but  I suspect, though, that Jung probably has had the most influence on Christians who are counselors (and therefore on the people they counsel).  Related to counseling, Jung was a direct inspiration for the development of Alcoholics Anonymous which was originally Christian (also, A.A. is one of the first self-help groups which as a way of organizing people would later became a focus of various New Agers, Christian and otherwise).

I also wonder what connections there might be between Jung’s interest in Catholicism and the supernatural and the interest in the same by Horror writers and movie directors.  Also, as there are Catholics interested in Jung and Catholics interested in horror and ghost stories, I wonder how many Catholics would be interested in both.  Interestingly, both Jungian studies and the Horror genre have simultaneously increased in popularity and respectability.  An obvious link between Jung and horror would be Freud‘s understanding of the Uncanny and I would say that the Uncanny would be magnified by the amorphous nature of the Jungian Collective Unconscious.  The Uncanny becomes quite horrific when it can no longer be safely contained within the human brain, no longer explained away as mere psychological mechanism.

New Age, Hillman, and the Paranormal

There are three other interconnected avenues of Jung‘s influence that I want to consider further. 

1) As Jung was influenced by the spiritual and the spiritualist movements of the 19th century, he in turn influenced the New Age movement of the 20th century.  Jung acts as a bridge and a synthesizer.  Jung himself and his ideas struggled for respectability, but still it was partly through his ideas that the New Age gained some respectability.  His views on archetypes gave many people a method/language (and an even playing field on which) to analyze mainstream culture and the dominant religions.  The New Age’s incorporation of archetypes, however, made them even less respectable to mainstream culture (at least until recently, maybe partly because the New Age has become more respectable).  If it weren’t for certain writers such as Joseph Campbell, Jung’s writings on comparative mythology might very well be less known and understood.  Joseph Campbell also helped to revive Jung’s study of Christianity in terms of mythology.  Specifically, it was Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey (i.e., Monomyth) that brought this all to a mainstream audience.  Suddenly, both Hollywood and Christianity had to come to terms with mythology… forcing Christianity to also come to terms with Hollywood and popular culture in general.  One other connection between Jung and the New Age would be Quantum Physics.  One of Jung’s patients was the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and they developed a friendship.  They both were interested in the connection between science and the mind, and this interest became symbolized by the number 137.  This number fascinated Pauli (and many other scientists) because the “fine structure constant” is approximately 1/137 which is neither very large nor very small but rather a human-sized number, a number that’s easy  to grasp.  Jung had discovered that going by the numerology related to Kabbalah that the word ‘Kabbalah’ added up to 137.  So, this number represented their shared interest, their shared ideal.  This desire to bridge matter and mind, science and psychology is a major part of New Age spirituality and of other thinkers outside of the New Age (e.g. Ken Wilber).

2) A second line of influence is that of James Hillman who was indebted to and critical of Jung‘s view.  He wrote a book about Jung’s typology and he was very much against it being used in a systematic fashion to categorize people.  To be fair, Jung was extremely wary of his typology being systematized.  Hillman can be considered as loosely a part of the thinking going on within and on the fringes of the New Age movement, but his ideas were a bit of an opposition to the idealistic strain of the New Age.  He believed suffering and illness should be accepted and understood on its own terms.  So, reality should be taken for what it is without trying to make it into something else.  Importantly, this view seems to be different than Freud‘s thinking in that Freud was apparently less trusting of human nature and experience (although there may be some minor similarity in that Freud emphasized helping people adapt rather than trying to fundamentally change them).  For instance, the Freudian-influenced Pessimism of Zapffe (and hence of Ligotti) posits that humans are deceived and self-deceiving.  Zapffe has a very good analysis of the methods people use to avoid suffering (which, to be honest, I’m not sure to what degree someone like Hillman would disagree).  From another perspective, Robert Avens, in his Imagination is Reality, draws on Hillman’s writings.  I found Avens’ analysis to be a useful counter example to the philosophical writings of Ligotti, but this is something I’m still working out.  I see some truth (and some limitations) in both perspectives.

3) The third aspect would be Jung‘s focus on the paranormal.  He studied the paranormal since he was young and had paranormal experiences of his own.  As he grew older, he saw the psyche and the archetypes as not being limited by the human brain.  His interest in the paranormal was far from idle.  Through his principle of synchronicity, he believed non-ordinary experiences had a very direct and practical impact on a person.  He also corresponded with the famous parapsychology researcher J.B. Rhine and they met once, but as I understand Jung was uncertain about the relationship between synchronicity and parapsychology research (since the former focuses on the subjective and the latter on the objective).  One of his last books was about UFOs and it was highly influential on a certain tradition of UFO researchers: Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  This tradition overlaps with Jung’s studies of and influence on religion and spirituality.  Vallee, like George P. Hansen, studied spiritual groups and religious cults.  I’m sure Keel studied those as well.  In The Eighth Tower, Keel details some of the biblical mythicist theories and Egyptology that had become increasingly popular starting in the 1970s (and, of course, he relates it to the paranormal).   Thus, paranormal research was combined with comparative mythology and folkore studies.  This is how Jungian ideas became linked with Charles Fort, another researcher into the paranormal.  Charles Fort was a different kind of thinker than Jung, but people interested in one often are interested in the other.  Even though I’m not as familiar with Fort, I do know he was highly influential on other writers and thinkers in his lifetime (John Cowper Powys, Sherwood Anderson, Clarence Darrow, Booth Tarkington, Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Alexander Woolcott and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.) and many later people as well too numerous to list (which includes many of the writers I discuss in this post).  A less known fact is that Fort wrote fiction stories that were published early in his career and a major part of his influence has been on fiction writers.  Both Jung and Fort read widely and both changed their minds as they came across new evidence.  Even more than the likes of Hillman, the Forteans are the real opposites of the New Agers.  However, Forteans and New Agers were both a part of the counterculture (before the New Age went mainstream with its being approved and popularized by Oprah).

These last three traditions do overlap in various ways. 

Patrick Harpur is a very interesting writer on the paranormal.  He references many of the above writers: Carl Jung, James Hillman, Robert Avens, Charles Fort, Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  George P. Hansen is even more wide ranging in that he references those same kinds of writers and he references various people from the New Age area and beyond all of that he also references many philosophers and scientists in other related fields.  Hansen is more difficult to categorize, but ultimately he might best fit in with the Fortean tradition.  Another writer I discovered recently is Keith Thompson who wrote a book that is similar to the writings of these other two.  Thompson and Hansen come to a similar conclusion about the Trickster archetype being fundamental to understanding the paranormal (which could be related to Jung’s insight that the Trickster figure was a precursor to the Savior figure). Thompson is also interesting in that he has very direct connections to the New Age and to Integralism.  Besides writing about UFOs, he did an interview with Robert Bly in the New Age magazine which was what first brought the mens movement into public attention.  Thompson credits Michael Murphy for supporting the ideas in the book early on partly by promoting a UFO group at the Esalen Institute (where, for instance, Joseph Campbell had taught in the past).  Michael Murphy has been closely associated with Ken Wilber and apparently Thompson is the same person who was the president of Wilber’s Integral Institute for a time.

Let me briefly point out that, in the context of the three Jungian-related traditions outlined above, there are some counterculture figures that are mixed into this general area of ideas: William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna, and Philip K. Dick.  So, this brings in the fields of study involving psychology, consciousness research, psychedelics, epistemology, spiritual practice and conspiracy theories.  Also, I would add a connection here with Transpersonal psychology and the New Age in general.  If you’re a fan of the radio show Coast to Coast AM (formerly hosted by Art Bell and now hosted by George Noory), then these types of ideas and writers should be generally familiar to you (Terrence McKenna, in particular, was a regular guest).  I want to emphasize particularly William S. Burroughs as he was extremely interested in these kinds of subjects.  Despite Burroughs dark streak, he said he never doubted the existence of God.  He believed in lots of alternative ideas such as ESP, but most relevant here is that he visited Whitley Strieber who is one of the biggest names in the UFO encounter field.  In connection to Burroughs and Jung, Reich (who proposed the orgone theory) also had a strong interest in UFOs (which he connected with his orgone theory).  As a passing thought, this last connection of Reich reminds me of Paracelsus as the latter also speculated much about the paranormal (in terms of influences and beings).  Vallee discusses Paracelsus’ ideas in context of modern speculations about UFOs.


The Occult and the New Age, Spiritualism and the Theosophical Society

I need to backtrack a bit to delineate some other lines of influence.  I want to follow further the influence Mesmer and spiritualism had on fiction and I want to follow a different influence from the Theosophical Society.

Poe and Horror, Philip K. Dick and Neo-Noir

So, first, Mesmer and spiritualism had a wide influence on fiction, in particular the genre of horror.  Most significantly, I want to follow a divergent influence Poe had.  Poe is definitely one of the most influential writers for modern horror, but less recognized is that he is also considered by some to be the originator of the modern detective storyVictoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson write about Poe’s horror writing, but those two also write about noir (which of course is grounded in the hard-boiled detective story) and neo-noir.  A major factor in the transforming of noir into neo-noir (and it’s related development into tecno-noir and influence on cyber-punk) was the writings of Philip K. Dick and especially the movie Blade Runner which was based on one of his novels.

My interest in noir and neo-noir has increased since reading Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson… and a more recent addition to my library is Thomas S. Hibbs.  All three of them have helped me to understand the religious undertones and philosophical implications of this genre.  Nelson and Wilson cover similar territory, but Hibbs has a different view that emphasizes Pascal‘s ideas (which offers another counterbalance to Zapffe/Ligotti ideas).  Hibbs uses Pascal’s hidden God as a contrast to Nietzsche‘s God is dead.  He also writes some about Philip K. Dick, but apparently isn’t aware of PKD’s own notions about a hidden God (aka Zebra).

Nelson, in The Secret Life of Puppets, writes about writers such as Poe, Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick and C.S. Lewis in terms of mythology, puppets, alchemygnosticism, art and film; she also briefly writes about New Age groups and UFO cults.  More significantly, she discusses German Expressionism merging with “hard-boiled detective mode of pulp fiction” to form film noir.  She speaks of re-noir by which I assume she means the same genre that others call neo-noir.  She also goes into some detail about New Expressionism which seems closely connected with neo-noir.  Specifically of interest to me, she discusses the movie Blade Runner.  I’m not sure about her opinion on the subject but I think some consider that movie to be the first neo-noir film (or at least the first sf neo-noir film) which is a type of film that has become increasingly popular in the following decades.  Also, Blade Runner (along with PKD’s fiction) was a formative influence on cyber-punk.  As for neo-noir, besides being mixed with science fiction and fantasy, it has also used elements of horror as in Dark City.  This is natural fit considering Poe’s influence.  Another very interesting topic she discusses is Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber.  She compares Schreber’s view of reality with that of Lovecraft’s fiction.  It’s also significant to note that Schreber’s memoir was made famous by Freud‘s analysis of it in terms of homosexuality and paranoia, and it was Jung who brought this text to Freud’s attention.  Nelson does discuss Freud in reference to Schreber and she discusses Jung in other parts of her book.

Wilson was influenced by Nelson and so was writing along similar lines, but with more emphasis on religion and also more emphasis on subjects such as the Gothic and Existentialism.  In one book, he goes into great detail about Gnosticism and the traditions of Cabala and alchemy which were formed partly from the ideas of Gnosticism.  Wilson also said he was influenced by Marina Warner who is also mentioned in Nelson’s writings.  Warner writes in a similar vein as these two, but it seems she has less interest in pop culture although she does write some about Philip K. Dick.  These writers point out the connection between high and low art and the connection between art and culture, between imagination and religion.

I could make even more connections here in terms of Gothic fiction and Existentialism.  I’ve read a number of fiction writers that fit in here, but I’m not sure about specific lines of influence.

Theosophy: Darkness and Light

Now, let me follow a very odd linking of people starting with the Theosophical society.

First, most people don’t realize that the distinction between the Occult and the New Age didn’t initially exist when these ideas were first being formulated.  Aleister Crowley was associated with the Theosophical Society and he considered it significant that he was born in the year that the organization was founded.  Crowley appreciated the work of Anna Kingsford who established Theosophy in England and briefly headed it.  Whereas Blavatsky had emphasized Oriental esotericism, Kingsford was in favor of a Western esotericism with a focus on Christianity and Hermeticism.  She supposedly was more known for her advocacy work for women’s rights, animal rights and vegetarianism.  She would seem to represent the more New Agey side of Theosophy which is odd considering the association with Crowley who was known as “the Beast”.

I want to momentarily point out a tangential thought that is relevant to the Theosophical Society and similar organizations.  George P. Hansen has written some useful analysis of the connection between the New Age and the Occult.  The following is mostly based on his ideas, but a similar analysis of the dark side of alien experiences can be found in the works of Jacques Vallee.

Intentional communities and Gurus are very popular amongst New Agers, but there is a dark side to this with Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and Heaven’s Gate.  Heaven’s Gate is an especially good example.  They were a UFO cult that was very New Agey in their interest in pop culture utopianism and their beliefs in alien/angels that would come to save them.  Many people who have alien abduction experiences are given messages by their captors.  They are made to feel special and that they have a mission to accomplish.  They are often told that the world is ailing or even dying, and that the aliens have come to save the planet or the aliens have come to save an elect few.  You can find similar messages in New Age channeled writings (and in the historical accounts of various traditional religions as well).

I was reading a book by Vallee who began his career as a scientist before becoming a UFO investigator.  He was one of the first people to make a connection between alien abductions and traditional folklore.  In the intro to one of his books, he mentioned that he had studied Teilhard de Chardin and appreciated his view.  Teilhard de Chardin is a name that comes up in discussions about both both New Age and Integral theory.

The Two Krishnamurtis

To return to the topic of the Theosophical Society, after Blavatsky died there was major conflict.  Crowley became antagonistic and various leaders turned against each other.  Rudolf Steiner helped to establish the German and Austrian division as independent, and out of this Anthroposophical Society formed.  The Americans also split off and later split again.  Annie Besant and Henry Olcott took over the division in India.

So, in India, J. Krishnamurti was adopted by Annie Besant and was groomed to be a World Teacher which Crowley didn’t like (I’m not sure why, but maybe he wanted to be the World Teacher).  U.G. Krishnamurti, through his grandfather, became involved in Theosophy in his teenage years.  The two Krishnamurtis met while a part of the Theosophical Society.  They shared their views with eachother and shared a questioning attitude.  Both rejected the role of guru which led to both leaving the Theosophical Society.  However, J. Krishnamurti did continue an informal career as spiritual teacher which U.G. Krishnamurti criticized as his having become a guru after all (and U.G. has been called an anti-guru and even the anti-Krishnamurti).  Both Krishnamurtis had profound spiritual experiences that transformed them, but U.G. Krishnamuti’s experiences led to a less popular viewpoint in that he believed that the physical world was all that existed.  According to my limited study of U.G., his view of no-mind seems something like a materialistic version of Zen.  J. Krishnamurti, on the other hand, is very popular with the New Age crowd (which is where I learned of him).  For instance, the same type of person who writes about J. Krishnamurti also writes about A Course In Miracles (another early influence of mine)… by the way, ACIM according to Kenneth Wapnick (who helped form the text) has a similar theology to Valentinian Gnosticism (which makes sense as the Nag Hammadi discovery was just beginning to become popular at that time). 


Horror Writers and Scholars

From Ligotti to Wilber

To get back on topic, U.G. Krishnamurti is less well known as he didn’t see himself as having a public mission.  His writings are on the extreme fringe of the New Age, but I’m not sure what kind of person is typically attracted to his philosophy.  However, I was interested to discover that Thomas Ligotti mentions him in an interview.  U.G. Krishnamurti’s materialistic bent fits in with the general trend of Ligotti’s thinking, but I’m not sure what value Ligotti would see in even a materialistic spirituality (not that U.G. was trying to promote its value).  I was reading from a thread on Thomas Ligotti Online that the story “The Shadow, The Darkness” was a direct homage to U.G. Krishnamurti.

Anyways, Ligotti represents an interesting connection between Horror and many other ideas.  Ligotti’s favorite thinker apparently is the Pessimistic philosopher Zapffe.  I came across that Zapffe was close friends with and mentor to Arnes Naess.  That is extremely intriguing as Naess was the founder of the Deep Ecology movement.  I find it humorous to consider the hidden seed of Zapffe’s Pessimism at the foundation of Deep Ecology.  Like Theosophy, Deep Ecology is another major influence on New Age thinking.  This confluence of Horror and the New Age is maybe to be expected for I suppose it isn’t entirely atypical for someone like Ligotti to go from being a spiritual seeker to becoming a fully committed Pessimist.  In terms of ideas, the opposites of optimistic idealism and pessimistic realism seem to evoke each other… as they say, scratch a cynic and you’ll find a failed idealist.  I was thinking recently that horror as an experience can only exist in contrast to hope.  If humans had no hope, then there’d be no horror.  So, the greatest horror is only possible with the greatest hope and the contrary would seem to be true as well.  In terms of environmentalism, Pessimism is a natural fit anyhow.  Environmental writers such as Paul Shepard and Derrick Jensen are far from optimistic about the human situation.  Paul Shepard, in particular, seems to have ideas that resonate with Zapffe’s view that something went wrong in the development of early humanity.  Along these lines, a book that would fit in here is The Love of Nature and the End of the World by Shierry Weber Nicholsen.

I think this is a good place to mention Julian Jaynes.  He was a psychologist who became famous through his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  His ideas generally relate to the kind of ideas put forth by Paul Shepard, Ken Wilber, Max Weber, Karl Jaspers, and Peter Wessel Zapffe.  He theorized that human consciousness was different in the past and a shift happened during early civilization.  He thought that ancient man’s mind was more externalized with less sense of individuality… something like schizophrenia.  He had two sources of evidence for his theory.  He saw traces of this early mode of consciousness in the oldest surviving writings and he referenced psychology research that demonstrated that stimulating parts of the brain could elicit a person hearing voices.  The reason I mention him is because he influenced, along with many others, both William S. Burroughs and Ken Wilber.  Buroughs wrote about Jayne’s ideas in his essay “Sects and Death” and Wilber wrote about them in his book Up from Eden.

Related to Deep Ecology is Phenomenology for Deep Ecologists have often used it to support their view.  This is so because, in Phenonmenology, there is something of an animistic appreciation of nature.  Phenomenology influenced Enactivism which is a fairly new theory involving the scientific study of consciousness and perception.  Enactivism was also influenced by Buddhism and as such Enactivism tries to scientifically explain our direct experience of reality.  Enactivism especially discusses the connection between mind and body.  I bring this up because Ken Wilber, who is critical of Deep Ecology, is a major contributor to and proponent of Integral theory which has had some fruitful dialogue with Enactivism (see my post ENACTIVISM, INTEGRAL THEORY, AND 21st CENTURY SPIRITUALITY).  Irwin Thomson has co-written some books with the Enactivist theorists, and  Ken Wilber has been contrasted with William Irwin Thomson (the father of Irwin Thomson).  The former is a systematic thinker and the latter non-systematizing, and yet both write about similar subjects.  (Jung was more of a non-systematizer and that might be why Wilber ended up feeling critical towards his ideas.)  Ken Wilber is useful to bring up as he has synthesized many different fields of knowledge and he has helped to bridge the gap between academia and spirituality.  Also, Wilber has become a major figure in popular culture such as his speaking on the commentary tracks for the Matrix trilogy.

I want to point out that there has been much dialogue between the ideas of Wilber and those of Jung.  Jung’s less systematic style of thought also allowed for great shift in his understanding over time.  This makes it difficult to understand Jung’s spectrum of ideas as his opinions changed.  Wilber, on the other hand, is extremely systematic and his theory has remained fairly consistent even as he adds to it.  Wilber does have some basic understanding of Jung which he describes in some of his books, but various people have pointed out some inaccuracies in his understanding.  As a systematizer of many fields, Wilber inevitably simplifies many theories in order to evaluate and synthesize them.  However, to understand the connection between Jung and Wilber it would be better to look to a third-party viewpoint.  The best example of this would be Gerry Goddard (whose lifework tome can be found on the Island Astrology website).  I bring up Goddard for another reason.  Goddard was also a systematizer like Wilber, but he brings a number of other writers into his theory.  As I recall, he gives a more fair assessment of Jung.  Also, he includes the ideas of Richard Tarnas and Stanislav Grof.  I briefly mentioned Tarnas at the beginning.  Tarnas is a historian whose writing is a useful resource for understanding the development of ideas across the centuries, and he also has an interest in astrology.  Tarnas wrote a very interesting book about history and astrology that Goddard references.  Goddard also writes about the psychologist Stanislav Grof who is often contrasted with Wilber.  Grof is interesting as he started off researching psychedelics, but later focused on non-psychedelic methods of altering the mind (such as breathing techniques) for the purposes of psychotherapy.  Goddard is a less known theorist, but is a good example of the relationships between some of the people I mention.

There is another related distinction I’d like to make.  Wilber and Goddard are systematizers which somehow connects with their work being squarely set in the field of non-fiction.  Wilber did write a novel, but even then it was simply a mouthpiece for his non-fiction.  William Irwin Thomson seems more like Jung.  Along with wide ranging interests, they both were deeply interested in the creative as well as the intellectual side of human experience.  By deeply interested I mean that they sought to express themselves creatively.  Jung was often painting or carving stone or simply playing around with whatever was at hand.  I don’t know as much about Thomson, but I’ve seen poetry he has written and I’ve seen him referenced as a poet.  Also, Thomson writes about literature.  Along these lines, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs would also be of this latter category of non-systematic creative thinkers.  Ligotti is a bit harder to fit in with this scheme.  He definitely has strong interest in both fiction and non-fiction, but relative to PKD and Burroughs he seems much more systematic and focused.

Let me conclude this section by saying that Ken Wilber is a major focal point of my own thinking simply for the fact that he covers so much territory and because his ideas have become the focus of more intellectual discussions of spirituality.  He is relevant to my discussion also because he was influenced by the counterculture ideas of his Boomer generation and so he is familiar with many of the people I’ve mentioned so far.  Wilber was interested in alternative ideas like those of Jung, but ended up setting his theory in opposition to depth psychology, transpersonal psychology and deep ecology.  Unhappily, Wilber often gets categorized in bookstores along with the very New Age writers he criticizes.  Similar to Ligotti, he spent much time seriously seeking spiritual perspectives which in his case even included following a guru for a while.  Ligotti and Wilber represent two very intellectual responses to the search for knowledge and understanding.

Burroughs in relation to Ligotti and PKD

Similarly, as I’ve stated elsewhere (see here), Ligotti and Philip K. Dick represent two very different responses to William S. Burroughs as they were both influenced by him.  I really don’t know the specifics of how Burroughs had an effect on Ligotti.  Supposedly, he said that Burroughs was his last artistic hero, but as far as I can tell he doesn’t otherwise speak about Burroughs much.  Burroughs was quite the Pessimist in many ways and so it’s a bit surprising that I didn’t notice his name being mentioned in the excerpt of Ligotti’s non-fiction from the Collapse journal.  Maybe when his full nonfiction work is published there’ll be something about Burroughs in it.  Actually, in some ways, Burroughs comes off as darker than Ligotti.  On the other hand, Burroughs had an explicitly spiritual side.  Gnosticism is particularly clear in Burroughs’ perspective and that is where PKD saw a connection to his own philosophizing.  This Gnosticism is a direct connection to Jung, at least for PKD but probably for Burroughs as well since I know that he was familiar with Jung.  PKD, however, is more Jungian in his view of gender in that both PKD and Jung apparently were influenced by the Gnostic (and Taoist) emphasis on gender as a way of thinking about the dualistic nature of the psyche.  Burroughs’ understanding of gender could also have its origins partly in Gnosticism as there was a strain of Gnosticism that was less idealistic about gender differences.  Burroughs considered himself Manichaean which was a religion with an ascetic tradition and which emphasized dualism to a greater degree (I find it humorous to consider that the great Church Doctor Augustine was also a Manichaean for many years before his conversion… which makes me wonder what Burroughs opinion was about Augustine).  Another distinction here is that Jung and PKD maintained relationships with Christians and biblical scholars, but I can’t imagine Burroughs having much interest in Christianity.  Burroughs, rather, saw Gnosticism as in opposition to Christianity.

Poe and Lovecraft, Christianity and Gnosticism

Another connection would be favorite writers.  I mentioned Poe already.  Poe was a major favorite of Burroughs, Ligotti and PKD.  Lovecraft would be another writer to bring up as he was influenced by Poe.  Lovecraft in turn had a tremendous impact on Ligotti and PKD, and Burroughs made references to Lovecraft in a number of places.  Also, Burroughs supposedly was taught about Mayan codices by Robert H. Barlow who was Lovecraft’s literary executor.  I was reading that Burroughs met Barlow in Mexico while studying anthropology.  An interest in cultures would be something that Burroughs shares with PKD and Jung, but I don’t have a sense that Ligotti has much interest in this area or at least he doesn’t seem to write about it.  To add a quick note, there is a nice essay by Graham Harman in Collapse IV that brings together Lovecraft, Poe and Phenomenology.

Yet another connection is that of Robert M. PricePrimarily, Price is a biblical scholar, but he has many interests including weird writing, superheroes and philosophy.  He seems to have been somewhat of a Lovecraft expert in the past and has written his own Lovecraftian stories.  Price’s interest in Lovecraft makes sense in terms of his interest in Gnosticism as Lovecraft’s view of reality is essentially that of Gnostic archons minus the Gnostic true God (there is a good analysis of Lovecraft’s philosophy in Sieg’s “Infinite  Regress” from Collapse IV).  Price also has written an essay about Ligotti that was published in The Thomas Ligotti Reader.  I know of Price mostly through his biblical scholarship as he writes about Gnosticism and mythicism which are two of my favorite topics.  He doesn’t identify as a mythicist, but is very supportive of mythicist theorists such as Earl Doherty and D.M. Murdock (aka Acharya S) and he highly respects some of the scholarship that was done in this regard during the 19th century.  Robert M. Price also has written quite a bit about Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.  He seems to have some respect for these two, but he also seems to be very critical of how their ideas have been used by New Agers.

To make a related point, D.M. Murdock‘s most recent book is about Christianity and Egyptology.  In it, she references the likes of Price and Campbell.  A major issue for Murdock is the literalism of traditional Christianity which was an issue that Campbell spilled much ink over.  The literal is seen as opposed to the imaginal according to the views of Hillman and AvensWilber makes similar distinctions using different models and terminology.  As for the Egyptian religion, I’d point out that it was a major interest of Burroughs (and Eric G. Wilson too).  There is a strong connection between Gnosticism and Egypt.  A distinction that some make between Gnosticism and Christianity is that the former preferred allegory rather than literal interpretation.  This began with the Alexandrian Jews in Egypt whose Platonic allegorizing of Jewish scriptures was acceptable even to some of the Church fathers.  The difference is that many Gnostics allegorized and spiritualized the gospel stories as well. 

I want to note here E. A. Wallis Budge who was one of the most respectable early Egyptologists.  Murdock references him to a great degree, and any thinker involved with early Christianity and Western mythology would be fully aware of his scholarship.  Of course, writers such as Mead, Price, and Campbell are familiar with his work.  Also, he was known by writers such as Burroughs and John Keel.  And surely Eric G. Wilson would’ve come across his writings.  Budge’s scholarship put Egyptology on the map and helped put it in context of early Western history including Christianity.  Budge is surprisingly not that well known to most people, but trust me he had massive influence on many thinkers over this last century.  Egyptology had already taken hold of the Western imagination by earlier scholars.  Poe used Egyptian elements in some of his stories and Poe died a few years before Budge’s birth.  Budge lived closer to the turn of the century around the time of Carl Jung, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, and Charles Fort.

Two Kinds of Thinkers

I want to describe one last aspect that I articulated partly in my post Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti.  I was distinguishing Ligotti as different from Burroughs and PKD in an important respect.  The latter two were extremely restless thinkers and seekers which seemed represented and maybe contributed to by their drug experimentation.  The only drugs that I’ve seen Ligotti mention are those that are medically prescribed for his bi-polar condition and so they’re designed to make him less restless.  I would guess that Burroughs was one of the first writers to truly popularize drug experimentation, but it took others to bring it into the mainstream.  It was during the ’60s that drug experimentation became a hot topic and Timothy Leary I suppose was the most major proponent.  However, many forget that Leary was originally a psychologist and a respected one at that.  There was this meeting of ideas at that time which has persisted: psychedelics, psychology, spirituality, occultism, ufos and conspiracy theories.  Robert Anton Wilson, a friend of Leary, was the one who really synthesized all of these seeming disparate subjects (and, if I remember correctly, it’s through his writing that I first read about Wilhelm Reich).  Another person was Terrance McKenna who in some ways picked up where Leary left off, but his focus was on mushrooms rather than LSD.

Philip K. Dick was aware of this whole crowd and it all fits into his own brand of counterculture philosophizing.  Specifically, he wrote about McKenna (and vice versa).  A common interest that PKD and McKenna shared was Taoism and the I Ching which they both connected to synchronicity.  They inherited this line of thought from Carl Jung who wrote an introduction to a popular translation of the I Ching.  As a side not, I’d add that McKenna’s view of UFOs are also influenced by Jung (and seem in line with theories of Vallee and Hansen).  To put this in context, Jung would relate psychic manifestations such as UFOs with synchronicity.  Related to this, Burroughs’ cut-up technique was based on the principle of synchronicity.  PKD was interested in Burroughs’ technique as it fit into his own beliefs about messages appearing in unexpected ways (i.e., God in the garbage or in the gutter).  Oppositely, this technique is something that Ligotti strongly disliked.  This makes sense as Ligotti seems to be more of a systematic writer, a perfectionist even (which neither Burroughs nor PKD aspired towards).  Along these lines, consider the random and meandering philosophizing of Burroughs and PKD in the context of Ligotti’s carefully articulated Pessimism.  To quote Quentin S. Crisp in the comments of his blog post Negotiating With Terrorists (where he writes about Ligotti’s use of U.G. Krishnamurti): “My own cosmic unease is, I think, far more open-ended than that of Ligotti. I honestly can’t see him ever changing his position, and it’s a position that has already concluded and closed.”  I doubt Crisp would want to be held down to that opinion as anything more than a tentative commentary, but it touches upon my own suspicion about Ligotti’s view.  I don’t mean to imply any criticism of Ligotti for I do sense that Ligotti’s writings are true to his experience (which, going by his own distinguishing between Lovecraft and Shakespeare, is something he values).  By quoting Crisp’s comment, I’m only trying to clarify the difference between Ligotti and certain other writers.  After all, restless inconclusiveness isn’t exactly a desirable state of being (which I’m pretty sure Crisp is well aware of).

Anyhow, the distinction here between these two kinds of writers is similar to the distinction I pointed out between William Irwin Thomson and Ken WilberIn my Enactivist post (linked above), I use MBTI and Hartmann’s boundary types (via George P. Hansen’s writing) to try to understand this difference.  Obviously, one could divide up writers in various ways, but this seems a fairly natural division that my mind often returns to.

For further analysis on types of writers, read the following blog post:

Fox and Hedgehog, Apollo and Dionysus


Conclusion: Different Perspectives

Many of the writers I’ve brought up disagree about different issues, and yet they’re a part of a web of relationships and ideas.  I wonder if the overall picture offers more insight than the opinion of any given writer.  These traditions of beliefs and lineages of ideas represent something greater than any individual.  I’d even go so far as to say that it shows a process of the cultural psyche collectively thinking out issues of importance, and certain people become focal points for where ideas converge and create new offspring.


Note: There are many more connections that could be made.  I’m curious how other writers might fit in: Hardy, Baudelaire, Borges, Kafka and Blake; Gothic writers, Romanticists, Transcendentalists and Existentialists; the brothers of William James and Henry James; the Powys brothers; various philosophers such as Nietzsche and Pascal.  Et Cetera.  In particular, it could be fruitful to explore Lovecraft further.  He wrote both fiction and non-fiction.  Also, he was immensely influential as a writer and in terms of his relationsips as he corresponded with many people.  Another angle of connections would be organizations formed around the scholarship of specific people.  There is the Fortean Society and the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich which were both formed during the lifetimes of Fort and Jung, but there is also the Joseph Campbell Foundation which was formed after Campbell’s death.  These organizations attracted many thinkers who also became well known for their own scholarship and writings.  Also, I could include the website Thomas Ligotti Online.  Ligotti is still alive, but he has such a cult following that a website (including a forum) was created by a fan.  This forum has attracted a number of other published weird fiction writers such as Quentin S. Crisp and Matt Cardin (both of whom write about the kinds of things I mention in this post).  There are also organizations such as the Esalen Institue which has attracted many diverse thinkers and has led to much cross-pollination of ideas.