American Liberalism & the Occult

I just watched this video about American liberalism having some origins in the occult. It reminds me of some passages from books I was recently reading (the passages are below the video).

American history is a lot more interesting than they teach in school. By the way, the guy in the video seems to be partly talking about America’s Great Awakenings. America has always been a country of religious experimentation. The deism of many of the founding father is an example of this (such as Thomas Paine writing and speaking about deism, atheism and Jesus being based on solar mythology).

What interests me the most is the time period in question is America’s Third Great Awakening which includes the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Populist Era… which set the stage for the Progressive Era. The book passages below are about the Populist Era when this Third Great Awakening became fully manifest as a movement.

 – – –

 – – –

Postel, Charles (2009). The Populist Vision (Kindle Locations 5292-5356). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

As the secretary of the People’s party in Grimes County, Texas, John W. H. Davis devoted his public energies to enacting the Populist agenda of economic, financial, and political reform. In his private contemplations, however, these reforms were closely intertwined with questions of faith. He understood that religion as practiced was “dead.” Christianity ignored the here and now with its misplaced focus on “your dead carcass after death.” Yes, Davis conceded, a “pure undefiled Christianity,” combined with an honest ballot, would bring the necessary improvements. But he was troubled by the question of whether such a secular brotherhood could still be called Christianity at all. In search for answers he turned to non-Christian beliefs. He read across a range of spiritualist and other metaphysical literature, and carefully clipped and filed in his personal papers Charles C. Post’s article about the evolution of man, apes, and the irrationality of belief in God. For Davis, it made no sense to have “a political hell on earth” and a “religious heaven by the same person.” He searched for a unified vision of spiritual and material progress. The study of “mental science” was of a piece with his investigations into census data and national legislation, inseparable parts of a single quest for human improvement.59

Davis understood the controversial nature of his religious views and kept his studies of “mental science” to himself. Because of efforts to avoid public discord, it is difficult to quantify the number of Populists who believed in spiritualism, “mental science,” or similar metaphysical systems. The task is even more complex given that many other Americans—from faithful Christians to skeptical agnostics—entertained curiosity about communicating with the spirits of the dead and other metaphysical practices. In Texas, among the signs that the Populists showed interest in their movement, the Southern Mercury extended sympathy toward the spiritualists in the face of ostracism by “religious fanatics.” Texas spiritualist associations, although small in number, only organized in districts that also happened to be Populist strongholds. The impoverished cotton farmers of Davis’s Grimes County, for example, sustained a spiritualist organization with twenty-nine official members.60

The most prominent spiritualist in Texas, Eben LaFayette Dohoney, ran as the People’s party candidate for a state judgeship. Dohoney was also one of the leading prohibitionists in the state. Although most Populists sympathized with the temperance movement, the Texas People’s party preferred “local option” restrictions on alcohol sales rather than alienating German and other voters. This tolerant gesture was largely undone in the public mind by placing Dohoney on the Populist ticket as he was well-known for his strident prohibitionist views. The spiritualists did not view alcohol abuse as a sin, the work of the devil, or a ticket to eternal damnation. But it did threaten public health. And the spiritualists’ commitment to health and fitness made them uncompromising foes of the liquor industry.61

The tangible connections between spiritual reform, health reform, and social reform brought spiritualists into the Populist ranks. The spiritualists did not confine their attention to the séance. Their belief in progress—the “continuous progressive unfoldment” of the human condition—translated into social activism. A number of spiritualists embraced an “evolutionary revolution” toward the cooperative commonwealth. The spiritualist newspaper Carrier Dove popularized legislation making the federal government responsible for financing and regulating cooperative corporations “under comprehensive and uniform laws.” Although less specific than Charles Macune’s subtreasury plan, the proposal was premised on the same state-centered and cooperativist assumptions.62

The spiritualists rejected the framework of Christianity in favor of what they understood as a scientific outlook. Like the Swedenborgians, the spiritualists used the language of modern science and based their claims on empirical evidence rather than emotion or doctrine. They viewed the discovery of the ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead as a confirmation of reason and science in the struggle against the mysterious and supernatural, just as the harnessing of electricity confirmed the scientific age. Although spiritualism bore the brunt of intense hostility from the churches and the pious, it had a considerable public presence in late nineteenth-century life. Like other cultural movements of the era, the spiritualists made extensive use of the camp meeting. Crowds five thousand to ten thousand strong gathered under spiritualist tents to hear the speeches of famous mediums. Although some of the participants were city people enjoying a rural retreat, the movement had a broad rural following. The annual camp meetings of the Mississippi Valley Spiritualists Association lasted for a month and drew thousands of participants from Texas, Minnesota, and everywhere in between.63

Spiritualism provided an attractive alternative for women. The Christian churches, with their ordained clergy and scriptural proscriptions, placed obstacles to women’s expression and equality. “Spiritualism,” its practitioners stressed, “has no oracles, no priests, no leaders. The truth, wherever found, is all it seeks.” Women thus found opportunities as trance mediums and truth seekers. Victoria Woodhull, the best-known spiritualist of the 1870s, connected spiritualism in the public mind with free love and challenges to traditional gender roles. Although most spiritualists distanced themselves from Woodhull’s free love ideas, they campaigned for women’s progress, advocating dress and dietary reform, job protection, career opportunities, and the right to vote. The spiritualists played a prominent role in the national suffrage movement, and in California the trance medium Laura de Force Gordon led the state suffrage association.64

Given their ideas about reform, spiritualists often made good Populists. The editor Annie Diggs, the silver crusader George Bowen, and the novelist Hamlin Garland were among other prominent midwestern Populists involved with spiritualism. James Vincent Sr., father of the Vincent brothers, popularized spiritualist ideas in the pages of the Nonconformist. His wife had been a spiritualist, and after her death he grew dissatisfied with religious interpretations of the afterlife. “While for myself I have no faith in the teachings of the bible,” he conceded, “I cannot deny the doctrine of immortality.” He found the solution to otherwise unexplainable phenomena in spiritualism, which provided empirical proof that “the mind is active everywhere.” Only the scientific methods of the séance allowed for the perception of this electricity-like force.65

Spiritualism played a large role in California Populism. Marion Cannon, exercising his authority as president of the state Farmer’s Alliance, pointedly ruled against a candidate for membership who did not believe in a supreme being. This ruling, however, served to allay public fears, as both the Farmers’ Alliance and the People’s party in California owed a great deal to spiritualism and related movements that flourished in the state’s climate of religious tolerance and experimentation. Here it should be kept in mind that much of the California movement had a nonreligious character, marked more by a casual drift from religious concerns than commitment to alternative beliefs. Cannon himself showed disinterest in spiritual matters, and although his wife was a committed church member, the church was one of the few organizations in which he did not take part. At the same time, a section of the reform movement in California embraced non-Christian beliefs in which a supreme being played an ambiguous part or no part at all.66

The spiritualist colony at Summerland, south of Santa Barbara, served as an organizing center for Populism. James S. Barbee, a Confederate veteran authorized by the national Farmers’ Alliance to organize on the West Coast, was closely tied to Summerland and, with the assistance of Alliance organizer Anna Ferry Smith, made it a base of statewide organizing. Burdette Cornell, a recent arrival from the Midwest known by the Populists as “our Nebraska Farm Boy,” served as the secretary of the Summerland Spiritualist Association. He traveled extensively throughout the state as a Farmers’ Alliance organizer, setting up suballiances in remote rural districts. A spiritualist cadre, which included prominent women activists such as Mary A. White and Addie Ballou, similarly helped build the Nationalist clubs and the People’s party in California.67

 – – –

Postel, Charles (2009). The Populist Vision (Kindle Locations 5357-5398). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

Besides the spiritualists, adherents of the related belief system known as Theosophy were similarly attracted to Populism. Theosophists also approached spirituality from the modern standpoint of rational inquiry and scientific validation. However, instead of focusing on communication with the dead, they studied what they viewed as the advanced ideas of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Asian belief systems. They also explored magic and the mystical, not out of belief in the supernatural, but in pursuit of “occult science,” that is, rational and scientific explanations for unexplained psychic phenomena. Founded by the Russian émigré Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the Theosophist movement, with headquarters in Madras, India, established branches in forty-two countries, with more than one hundred American chapters. Its followers tended to be in self-conscious revolt against the confines of traditional belief, and saw themselves as innovators on the cutting edge of a new, modern, and scientific world outlook. Their British counterparts, historian Alex Owen writes, pursued “a thoroughly modern project” with “distinctively avant-garde themes and preoccupations.” The same pursuit brought American Theosophists to Populist reform.68

Inspired by Buddhist and related ideas about the unity of life, Theosophists came to similar conclusions as the social Christians about human solidarity and social reform. They found the doctrines of Bellamy’s Nationalism especially attractive. Although Edward Bellamy himself was a social Christian, several of his closest associates, including Cyrus Field Willard, Sylvester Baxter, and other founders of Nationalism were Theosophists. In California, the Theosophists played a major role in organizing Nationalist clubs up and down the state. The influence of “occult science” spread well beyond the organized Theosophist societies, as occult lecturers and practitioners formed part of the bohemian subculture of reform. The caustically skeptical and atheistic Anna Fader Haskell found their ideas “rather absurd.” Yet, much to her chagrin, her husband Burnette had a long-standing interest in magic and named their son after the mystical Chaldaic god Astoroth.69

Mystical religion remained in the shadows of the Populist movement. It had its moment of national attention, however, with Coxey’s Army and the prominent role played by Jacob Coxey’s coleader of the march, Carl Browne. During the 1870s, Browne had served as secretary to Denis Kearney in the California Workingmen’s party agitation for Chinese exclusion. He later joined the Theosophists, who, ironically, provided some of the clearest voices on the West Coast in favor of racial tolerance. In 1893 he met Jacob Coxey, the Ohio Populist. The Californian introduced the Ohioan to both Theosophy and to the idea of organizing “Industrial Armies” as a means to bring the plight of the unemployed to public attention. The result was the famous march on Washington. Along the way, they mixed their campaign for a “good roads bill” with Theosophist teachings about Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and immortality.

Coxey and Browne dubbed their march “The Commonweal of Christ,” and announced to crowds of spectators that their march was a manifestation of the reincarnation of Jesus and other spiritual masters. This left many observers perplexed. The official chronicler of the march, Henry Vincent, received an inquiry as to what precisely was the nature of Coxey’s religious views. To this he replied that, as far as he understood it, Coxey’s religion “was to uplift humanity, relieve the oppressed and ‘let my people go free.’” As for Coxey’s church, Vincent described it as “the big one,” which “takes in all humanity irrespective of sect divisions.” Such an explanation made sense given the liberal and inclusive environment of Populist religiosity.70

Adherents of Theosophy saw themselves as the vanguard of a global unification of religious beliefs. They represented a small part of a much broader late nineteenth-century enthusiasm in America to learn from non-Christian belief systems. The wave of interest culminated in the 1893 World Parliament of Religions held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair. The organizer of the event, John Henry Barrows, a liberal theologian and minister of Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church, promoted the Parliament as “the most phenomenal fact of the Columbian Exposition.” The Parliament drew over 150,000 people from across the nation and the globe to its sessions. Reform-minded participants welcomed the opportunity to learn “what God has wrought through Buddha and Zoroaster.” They saw the event as a turning point in the quest for understanding the universal “religion of humanity” and “science of religion.” The nation’s newspapers carried detailed reports. In North Carolina, the front-page headline of the Populist Caucasian saluted the “Unique Assembly” and provided its rural readers with an account of how the followers of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and “all religions” sought unity on the basis of “the golden rule.”71

Such liberal religious sentiments expressed in rural Populist newspapers help explain the clash over comparative religion in Dayton, Tennessee, so many years later. At the Scopes trial, Darrow queried Bryan about what he knew of Buddha and Zoroaster, of which Bryan claimed to have little familiarity. Darrow’s purpose in this line of questioning was not to ridicule Bryan for his ignorance of obscure subjects. Rather, he grilled Bryan about the existence of other belief systems for the same reason

 – – –

Lears, Jackson (2009). Rebirth of a Nation (Kindle Locations 4567-4607). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Despite the prominence of progressive cliché, the vitalist celebration of spontaneity did lead to a new, more fluid style of thought—a distrust of static formulas and unchanging traditions, a fascination with energy, growth, and process; a willingness to lay “hands upon the sacred ark of absolute permanency,” as John Dewey wrote in “The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy” (1910), and recast truth-claims in more dynamic idioms. One can see this antiformalist tendency in everything from Holmes’s influential slogan about “the life of the law” (it “has not been logic; it has been experience”) to Dewey’s ideal school, whose aim was “not learning, but first living,” as a follower said in 1910, “and then learning through and in relation to this living.” Antiformalist urges energized the pragmatic turn in American philosophy, the insistence that ideas be evaluated with respect to their actual consequences in everyday life. Pragmatism was conceived by Charles Peirce, nurtured to adulthood by William James, and applied to politics and society by Dewey. It was the most influential philosophical consequence of the quest for immediate experience. The long-term results were anticlimactic. Among Dewey’s epigones, pragmatism never entirely escaped the utilitarian cast of mind; the pragmatic criterion of truth became “what works” and education for living became vocational training.

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.

Radical empiricism was the most profound intellectual consequence of the vitalist impulse. It animated James’s attempt to imagine “a world of pure experience,” a “blooming buzzing confusion” of perceptions from which we select and fashion our concepts. It validated his (and his contemporaries’) probing of religious experiences and other extreme psychic states, explorations that underscored the revelatory power of the “unclassified residuum” in mental life and the tentative, provisional character of scientific claims about it. Here and elsewhere, James stood in the midst of the transatlantic maelstrom that became

– – –

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).

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.