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The Betty Book Revisited Part 3

Introduction

This last instalment centres on the theme of conscious spiritual connection by looking at the essential elements of personal aspiration.

The Excerpts

The backbone of consciousness

  • “Experiment! Experiment! And live in constant association of mind with the tremendous power of spiritual force until it becomes the backbone of your consciousness.
  • It’s life giving quality is the richest gift you can pass on.
  • It is second-hand inspiration. The main thing is to help people to get it first hand. 
  • But sometimes you can’t – it is too unaccustomed.”

Comment

The cultivation of habits of thought, and association with higher ideas and ideals, will create a strong ‘backbone’ to character. Encourage the same in others.

Spiritual stamina

  • “Now we show you the condition,” they concluded, “take hold of it. Construct your plan of action. Take hold with boldness. Fortify against yourself, your weaker self.
  •  Breathe life, determination, enthusiasm into this plan. 
  • Hold your forces clearly vibrant not enervated with diluting thoughts. The main danger is apt to be loss of stamina. 
  • Maintain your vigor. Your strength is your concentration on your spark of enlightenment. Fan it into a flame.”
  • That is what you work with. You cannot let that die, or smoulder. Keep fanning it; that spark is your spiritual energy. 
  • What’s your foredetermination, particularised foredetermination, not just hazy? Work over it carefully as you would an architect’s blueprint. that is vitalised thinking, a creative thinking.
  • There’s substance to it. Make a start of materialising to yourself, analysing, grasping, taking hold of materials at hand, and fashioning something out of them. 
  • Thought is the material, but not speculative thought, positive building. It seems to be all grasp, taking hold of a few things you’ve got, and grasping them in holding onto them, and bye and bye, you’ve shaped something.
  • Constantly uphold the strength of an unconquerable spirit.

Comment

The challenge is to be focused in the right way, to maintain the best commitment you personally can. It isn’t easy. It takes real effort.

Attention

  • “The whole thing is the matter of Attention. All sorts of things are always swarming around you as thick as can be, but less you give them your attention, they can have no point of contact with you. 
  • Anything you give your attention to is magnetically yours.
  •  So the only way to reorganise yourself is to regulate your attention. That maintains your altitude of mind.”
  • “This sort of attention is exactly the same as looking at things. It is only the things you look at that really register.”
  • “If you had to copy a thing you would look at it long and hard; a glance wouldn’t do you any good. 
  • So if you want to become anything, you must keep looking at it, not just vaguely and generally, but fixedly, so you can reproduce it. That is Attention.
  • “I wish I could find a bigger word than Attention; It is so important.”
  • In the external as well as the mental world, the same principles obtain.
  • “They’re not asking me to give up all the little dinky- drinks I have to do,” said Betty at one time. “They don’t care WHAT WE DO, IT’S HOW WE DO.”

Comment

Choosing what we spend our time on – thinking about, or doing, shapes our capacity to grow spiritually.

Intelligent cooperation

  • That brings us back to the specific instance: the development of Betty as a station.You remember the explanation of the slow and difficult progress as an attempt to get away from “spontaneous or spasmodic” phenomena to an “intelligent cooperation.”
  •  If on the basis of seventeen years’ experience I were to indulge in prophecy I would say that the future of both fluency and accuracy would depend on: 
    • (a) development of the station’s sympathetic receptivity so that he will catch the impressions as rapidly as an engine receives the two or three thousand sparks a minute that drives itself smoothly and untiringly; 
    • (b) the extension of the station’s equipment so that the translation will be both instantaneous and accurate;
    •  (c) the strengthening of the Invisible’s veto power, so that it, to, will act instantly and smoothly to depress all the words that rise to the magnitude of an idea save the one desired. Then we should have true communication. 
  • The lnvisible may then be said to control directly, in the same sense that we control directly the forming of words with a pencil. WE Do not drive the pencil: the hand does it, controlled by and obedient to ourselves

Comment

This is about the development of the ability to ‘channel’ communications. It begins with a ‘spontaneous’ contact in the first instance. It can never be something sought out. One can only makes oneself fit for purpose. This idea of intelligently cooperating with spiritual agents is difficult, yet if we wish to become conscious of deeper knowledge and insight that is not distorted it is necessary.

Genuine contact

  • Incidentally this automatic action seems to be a law that follows all effort, putting forth of volition. 
  • Whenever a thing is desired enough (and is responsive) to calls and (the) outgoing of determination automatic action begins.
  •  Thus on each act of will depend many things. 
  • That is outside the scope of our present discussion: but later in these pages the working with the law will recur many times: so its just as well to get the idea now.

Comment

The desire for spiritual, contact seems to be obedient to a law, part of which concerns the character and nature of act of will intended to bring about that contact.

Do not strain

  • This is a slow process, many times it will seem foolish to you, and the hope for any results will appear fantastic. 
  • Remember that this must be not only a gradual natural growth, but also often requires stimulation to overcome arrested development of dormant facilities. 
  • Do not anticipate results.
  • Take the rewards as they come; and there are such rewards every step.
  • One more warning repeated before going into the first effects of establishing spiritual contact. DO NOT STRAIN.
  •  “The moment you try to create, to pump up, to reach for definite things, you are in grave danger. 
  • You may get almost anything. 
  • Better to stay asleep on earth, far better. You’ll never get anywhere if you are thinking of what you’re going to get. In that case you will be just a curiosity seeker. 
  • It is deadly hopeless to try that. 
  • You’ll be led to a blind alley and left there. That is done with so many people!”
  • “Belief in the attainability of higher powers is a legitimate ambition, but they must be grown into faithfully. 
  • The amateur method of seeking growth or spiritual freedom is by terrible concentration of mind, but this must also be replaced by an expansion of the heart.”
  • “How can I bring you strongly enough to this first principle. It is to expand in spirit, not intellectually. 
  • The spirit is usually like a desiccated fruit inside the brain. Let your spirit soak up in a simple and pleasant fashion until it is a fitting mate for your brain. 
  • Lay bare your problems to the influence of the great expansion which will bring your solution. 
  • This is the only real channel which will bring permanent wholesome psychic influence.
  •  It is the safe and open highroad.”

Comment

It is by effort of heart, not brain that the object is attained – and that is not a thing that can be forced or strained at. It is a natural unfolding of love, essentially, that is required.

The Great Formula

  • “Do not forget how you do it; through strength of desire to serve, through vigorous encircling action, through overflowing faith, through vision of reality, through union with spiritual law and purpose, through understanding of temptation and resistance, through magnifying to each his own soul. 
  • Through all these you find your way to the comprehension of the divine life.”

Comment

The language is maybe hard on modern eyes, but the message clear enough. 

Conclusion

In my original reading of The Betty Book I found confirmation that spontaneous inducement to speak or write as a means of communicating the direct thought of non-physical agents was real. The idea itself was not alien to me. Back then my girlfriend and I had started moving within a community in which such ideas were readily accepted – but often uncritically. In fact, the content of this book would have been challenging to many of our peers. They favoured a magical, rather than a spiritual, orientation. That is to say they favoured head, rather than heart, stuff – knowledge and techniques that promised access to power. Ultimately, we abandoned that path, because it lacked a deeper moral compass.

Back then I was by no means a paragon of virtue. I had profound psychological growth to undergo – and that took a few more decades. But I had a deep sense that the knowledge/power path was not right for me. It was intellectually stimulating for a while, but then I started to ask questions about purpose and meaning that were not welcomed. 

I think that when I first read this book, I was not capable of seeing the deeper narrative. It served my immediate purpose, and that was enough. Over the ensuing 40 odd years the book has retained a hold on me. One part of me knew it had more to offer. Now I see a simple clarity, a little tangled up in language and style. It is important to forgive that and see it only as the dross of ages concealing a real enduring gem.   

I am now motivated to read the book again. As I reviewed these essays, I recalled that all they were was a sampling of the deep thoughts of the original book, not a complete exposition of the ideas offered by the Invisibles. My goal was summarising some key ideas that might excite a reader to read the whole thing.

If the reader is interested in reading the Betty Book and has difficulty in finding a copy, I do have a PDF version. If you want a copy contact me – [email protected]

The Betty Book Revisited Part 2

Introduction

This second instalment focuses on the mechanisms of self in the world, leading to greater self-awareness. It considers the motive forces of desire and will, and then how they can be marshalled to lead to a balanced and harmonious life.

It also addresses the idea of an enduring self, and how it may more effectively be the guiding influence in life in the material world.

The Excerpts

Desire

  • You get nowhere at all unless you desire. You do not move your little finger unless you have a definite wish to do so; you do not swallow, look, shift position, speak, understand, perform any activity whatsoever, physical or mental, unless you have first sent out from within yourself a self-originated impulse that starts the machinery. 
  • The force used, the mechanism employed, maybe altogether an outside thing. It is possible for a child’s hand on a lever to accomplish mighty results, but the origin of it all is desire for something, on the part of one man or many. That is the thing that is born within the human being, mysteriously, out of nothing
  • Now according to this philosophy every desired, when it is a definite outgoing desire, produces an impetus. This is true whether or not that desire produces any apparent effect. 
  • Before it can result in an action it may be inhibited, or it may encounter opposing forces that nullify it. 
  • But in the substance of thought – an idea we have examined – an impetus is produced – that proceeds on In its own direction and according to its own laws until its forces exhausted or until it is destroyed or deflected by other influences.
  • It may be likened a child’s mechanical toy that runs when you place it on the floor, until the power of its mainspring is exhausted; or the ripples from a stone cast into water. 
  • The strength and vitality of that impetus depend on the intensity and vitality of the desire and the clarity of the perception.
  • That proposition, then, is simple enough in its initial statement. In its ultimate results it becomes complicated beyond present human understanding. 
  • The billions of crosscurrents that setup of impetuses, old and nearly spent or new and vigorous; feeble in their inception or powerful; solitary or united; running with or counter to one another, make for a bewildering tangle. 
  • The ultimate effect is probably under some law, but that law we did not now at present

Comment

Desire is a force – a impetus – not an abstract notion. As to whether it is finally effective depends upon the intensity and vitality of the desire and the clarity of perception. But in a world of billions of desires we are in the midst of a bewildering tangle that constitutes the foundations of much of our complex human activity.

For Buddhists, desire is the source of suffering – and if we identify with the energies of desire that we send forth, vesting our sense of meaning and worth in them, it is easy to see that that can be the case. 

However, here desire is the foundation of action, and the issue is not desire per se, but its quality (in terms of intent and execution).

Spiritual Impetus

  • Each person has his own individual spiritual impetus which he makes from whatever genuine aspirations and desires he may possess. 
  • “The will” they told us, trying to define this out-reaching desire that results in impetus, “is separate from either the mind or the brain, it is the driving force of the being, that makes you decide for or against. It is what you build with. Is the conscious part of your soul. Will is a poor name for it, but we have no better. 
  • You measure growth against it as you measure a child backed against a door. It is like a number you are labelled with, what you amount to, your measure.” 
  • By this inner and individual thing, that is yours personally and can be set in motion by no one else, you build your personal impetus.” 
  • You get yourself a certain individual power formula: it produces a certain result. That is impetus.
  • “Unless something happens to stop that impetus or deflected, it will carry you along its appointed route until the force is spent.”
  • Thus a very large percentage of your present life is made up of unspent impetus brought into being by the desires of your past life. 
  • Only a small percent is fresh impetus. 
  • In that fashion you are increasingly a slave of your past, unless by new and strong desire you create new impetus that shall override the old.
  • “But,” say they, “You can change the formula you have made for yourself. The development quality it can put forth in new impetus is exactly according to the inspiration with which you combine it.”
  • Therein lies man’s control over what he calls destiny.
  • “Destiny,” they define it,” is the spending of impetus unarrested by spiritual consciousness.”

Comment

Here a deeper spiritual impetus (will) is contrasted against desire, whose roots are shallower (driven by more facile motives?). It seems we have two sources of impetus that we must strive to fuse into one.

Spiritual contact through prayer

  • Next, as the first contribution to its meaning, assemble under it all that you have come to understand as the process of seeking spiritual contact and permeation. 
  • This process constitutes the first step in ALL constructive prayer. “In that phase,” said the Invisible, “It is an assembling and offering up of your best self for union with the Overstrength. 
  • Only when this has been made habitual are we ready to proceed further.
  • “It is only by the strength of this contact that you gain the courage for the second step; to plumb the depths and know yourself. It is the inspiration that quickens your perception. 
  • You cannot plunge all at once into a knowledge of your spiritual lacks, because that MUST come gradually.”
  • “These two levels of prayer we must learn to perceive and use before they can give us more.” Betty ended.
  • When the subject of prayer was first presented to us as such, the first step -the spiritual contact step – was re-expressed in terms which might be illuminating to quote here. In essence, they told us, it is merely a spiritual association approached with human warmth of desire; And amounts in the long run to a great lifelong companionship.
  • “I don’t understand that,” said Betty, “I’ll review it.” “I approach divine companionship in prayer as I reach for warm friendship,” she went on after a pause, ”only with greater expectation.”

Comment

The foundational idea of prayer here is first to offer your ‘best self’ in seeking companionship, and then dare the journey of self-examination and awareness. When that has been attained there is more to come.

The spiritual body

  • The spiritual body, we are assured, is indestructible. It may be, as Betty saw it, crippled, embryonic, incomplete; but such as it is, it endures.
  • Furthermore, whatever we may add to it in the way of development is an everlasting possession. 
  • We may go our ways deliberately blind, deliberately neglectful, willfully procrastinating, self centered, even antagonistic.
  • These things may form over our real selves a crust that will stop growth. They may act on us, and on others about us, in unguessed ways through long vistas of time. 
  • Their effects we will have to liquidate, with compound interest. 
  • Their iron construction we will have to dissolve before again we can expand. 
  • But they cannot destroy. 
  • Whatever of the spiritual body is in ourselves-even in crudest embryo-is ours forever, on which sometime or other, when we have resolved ourselves free, we shall build

Comment

Our true nature is indestructible, but in our developmental stage we can find ourselves with intended and unintended self-imposed limits, from which we must eventually escape.

Character

  • “So few people have any grand plan,” said the Invisible. “they can’t make any form for you because they haven’t any. That is what character is, SHAPE.”
  • “This is like those confusing maps where they colour the water and leave the land blank. It is reversed. The intangible unfleshed things, honour, character, confidence, all such things, should be visualised with shape, a substance.”
  • “That is the way our lenses actually perceive you,” answered they, “we cannot see you, as you see yourselves, without your physical eyes. 
  • Our eyes are for the enduring different kind of body. Our eyes make real to you the intangible qualities which you call spiritual. 
  • Only strainingly do we perceive the material.”

Comment

Here character is described as Shape – something that can be perceived from ‘the other side’. It’s a useful way of thinking about character in general – since we already tend to use visual metaphors – like colourful. 

Stability

  • “You see, everybody really wants stability; and they always recognise a person who has it. If you have something they haven’t, but want, they’ll pay attention to you. 
  • And if they haven’t it and DON’T want it, but you make them feel it, then they’ll begin to want it. You make your stability by spiritual contact. Then somehow the response to that contact must be shared.”

Comment

Here I see stability as the absence of extremes -a kind of centredness – a calmness of spirit – peacefulness.

Balance

  • “The balanced proportion of life is the first thing to impress on the world,” they said. “Balance is the big thing to emphasise. 
  • The world is crippled now because it has withered spiritual faculties.
  • “That should be,” they explained further, “a certain working proportion between what we call the material and what we call the spiritual. If that proportion is overbalanced ON EITHER SIDE trouble always results.”
  • By attainment of the right proportion we shall in one way or another gain all things worthwhile in this life and the next.
  •  In fact, on the whole, the problem of successful living can be expressed in that one simple formula: attain actively the proportions of life.
  •  “The rounding out of proportion is the foundation of everything.” they told us. As a general proposition that sounds broad and simple enough.
  • But when we approach the problem in search of detail, then we find ourselves in face of the greater mysteries. how’s the proportion wrong, as to the world; how is it wrong as to me? How was the balance to be struck?

Comment

Here it can seem that our propensity for materialism has unbalanced our ways of being in the world. The solution is not the abandonment of the material, but the restoration of spiritual influences to tip the balance toward attainment of the proportions of life.

The habit of spiritual thought

  • “It is an HABITUAL SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS they are after,” Betty reported one time. “the gaining of this does not mean straining or striving; 
  • It is more a matter of how frequently you think of it, just leave it calmly and comfortably. Walk your days as a creature with folded wings, conscious of the position of another element and the ability to enter it.
  • When worries in the world annoyances come, you can rise strongly indeterminately, spend a few moments in calm, and at once descend reinforced to the object in hand
  • “The thing is not to settle down into yourself, but to be always dependent on the companionship of your spirit, that seems to be just above the surface, like a mooring, or buoy.
  • The soul has to live in the body, ordinarily; but in this way you make your body live with your soul.”

Comment

Nothing says it more clearly than the last 2 dots points – banish the illusion of self-alone and dwell in a companionship – a partnership of aspects of one’s own consciousness.

Conclusion

For me these excerpts focus the essential attributes of a balanced and harmonious sense self in the world – of being in the material and the spiritual dimensions at the same time. They articulate a coherent sense of self – one that endures, even beneath the distractions, suffering and delusions that can blight and individual’s life.  

Revisiting The Betty Book – Part 1

New Introduction

Back in January 2019 I posted 3 essays based on The Betty Book by Stewart Edward White. The book is a classic of communicated writing, containing ideas of great sophistication. The key character, Betty, and began communicating in company with a body of more advanced entities, called the Invisibles.

On my reread, in 2018, I was struck by the remarkable similarity with Frank DeMarco’s works – his series of Rita books. Both White and DeMarco present challenging ideas ‘from the other side’.

Unlike much ‘channelled’ writing the content is mentally taxing and often confronting. Engaging with it, in my experience, is often difficult because I have found myself reacting to the content in ways that making staying focused hard.

Quite a lot of ‘channelled’ content I have explored has been hypnotic and emotional, with no real content of value. Most of it has been admonition only – something the ‘channeller’s own psyche has either completely made up, or so interfered with an original message it has been rendered useless.

New ideas, or new takes on familiar ideas, are a different matter. In this case, as with DeMarco, there is an acknowledged difficulty in translation – putting into words ideas formed where no words, such as we know them, exist. So not just new notions, but a challenge in expression as well.

White represents a further challenge as well. The Betty Book was published in 1937. The writing style has changed a great deal since then, and it will seem a lot out of date to many readers. 

I have reformatted the original text as dot points re make reading easier.

Do I believe what is written? Not necessarily. I don’t think it is a matter of belief. It is whether the content resonates with the reader – and it resonated with me.

Some mental and emotional effort is required in engaging with the text and the ideas it contains. For some, it may be rewarding.

Original Introduction

Back in the late 1970s my then girlfriend started to channel a discarnate entity (see earlier posts for more on this). She freaked out and thought she was going mad. On the other hand, I set out to do some research on the phenomenon. That’s when I encountered Stewart Edward White’s 1937 classic, The Betty Book. It was an account of another instance of the spontaneous development of the ability to convey thoughts from ‘the other side’.

I last read The Betty Book in the mid 1990s, and recently I decided to write a post on in it, for reasons that were not clear even then, just an urge. But as I started, I paused. It had been a long time, so maybe I should have a quick look to refresh? That was a good thing to do. It was nothing like I remembered! So, I reread it in its entirety, no skimming or skipping.

It was not an easy read. White is an accomplished author – his extensive body of works endure on Kindle. Maybe part of the problem is simply that, 70 years on, writing styles have changed and I am habituated to what is, for me, a more fluid style. However, another thing seems to be commonplace with writing that introduces new ideas – the thoughts need to be chewed over, and not simply swallowed. The reader has to work at the task of consuming the book’s content.

This time I made notes. Actually, I imaged the Kindle app’s page on my iPad, and used OCR to turn the quotes into Word docs, albeit with some persistent formatting issues. What I want to do here is provide a list of the captured quotes plus some commentary.

The reason I want to do this is that The Betty Book seems to me to lay out a perfectly coherent articulation of a vision of human spirituality that confirms understanding in the deeper esoteric tradition – and contradicts many other claims. The ideas merit re-engagement.

This exercise will be undertaken over 3 posts.  There seems to me to be 3 distinct phases in the book. I encourage readers read the words of the quotes deliberately and stay reacting to them while reading. Of necessity, a lot of material, that may elaborate on what is quoted, is missing. If you want to read the who text, you can buy a copy of the book or download it from sites like https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0301111.txt

There are 3 voices in the text excerpts below – the author’s, Betty’s (as a participant in the process of communication) and “the Invisibles” (the present but unseen informants).

The excerpts

Uneven progress

  • Furthermore, the degree of our ability to deal with it is a pretty good indicator of how far we have travelled. 
  • For we have by no means come all the same distance. In evolution we do not advance in company front, but string out irregularly like a crowd going to a ball game.
  • “You all live together on earth at different levels – levels of consciousness, we mean.” the Invisible expressed this. “Certain prerogatives pertain to each level of capacity. 
  • Your voluntary capacity or the level you attain, contains certain growths, senses or prerogatives peculiar to that element, altitude, substance or level. This of yours is the level of dawning perception.”
  • In the course of our development, they went on, we progress from one level to another, like going upstairs. And each step must be lived out to the full before we can go on to the next.

Comment

It is, to me, a critical insight that our human family comprises people at different levels of development – or spiritual maturity. This has nothing to do with delineation by race or culture, but within cultures and communities. It means that some folk are motivated by high ideals and others by more fundamental imperatives, and neither is inherently better or worse than the other.

There is an implicit suggestion that each individual has to meet the challenges of their ‘level’ before moving on. This can be interpreted to mean there is an essential ethos, or morality, that guides human life.

There is no basis for judging another person as inferior – we are just at different stages on our own journeys.

The value of material experience

  • “There is so much leisure of mind and soul and time for your attitude toward people,” explained Betty, “none at all for getting things two cents cheaper at another store, and all those dinky-dinks. 
  • It’s like the difference in size between the fingers on a moving picture screen and human beings in the front row. I argue that I can’t live in the material world without doing many little things, and THEY argue that it is just what we are sent here for, to find out what things are worth doing and what are not. 
  • They have great respect for the material labour and necessities and such things; but they are only so important. 
  • They are not asking me to do what the big idealists have done, like Buddha or Confucius; throw humanity aside and walk with fixed gaze; but they ARE asking me to approximate that freedom. 
  • It’s a case of focus as near as I can come to it. 
  • You must change your focus so that all the little things near you will not look sharp and important.”

Comment

I am struck by the notion that we are sent here to find out what things are worth doing and what are not. It seems like such an innocent statement – until you think on it. Things are worth doing – but only up to a point. Where is that point? What do we invest in our material being as a priority – and when do we turn our energies inward and ‘upward’? 

Mind and body are one

  • Both mind and body are human manifestations of one reality, the human consciousness. 
  • The body is a material manifestation of the sort of consciousness that is human. 
  • The mind is a link between body and what we call spirit, or cosmic germ. 
  • Spirit or cosmic germ, the actual I AM of the individual, itself has a definite body, with weight, form count, colour, substance.

Comment

What we call mind, as we know it, arises as a node in our consciousness that is situated in relation to our physical being – it is aware of time and space and the necessities of being in material existence. While our consciousness operates in a larger domain, our present awareness (as mind) has a particular material angle only. 

The limits of the brain

  • We over here cannot work through the brain very well because of its great educational and perceptual restrictions. 
  • Don’t be so OFFENDED in your intellect. Give us a chance.
  • We won’t do more harm than present your precious intellect something for it to work on for the rest of its natural life. 
  • Leave it in to soak and keep it flexible, and we can go on. It’s bound to be satisfied later. 
  • When this becomes the leader of your intellect, it MUST immediately react on it; it MUST, just as the blood goes through your body to nourish all the parts.
  • I thought maybe I could make you see the point; it’s always a great stickler. That’s why I came. 
  • Working only in the limited knowledge of the brain is slow business. It takes generations to develop new respectable symbols.

Comment

The brain, as a physical thing, is shaped and configured by ‘education’ and experience. That means it is either responsive to, or unresponsive to, certain information or experiences. There’s a suggestion here that in consequence to exposure to some BIG IDEAS it will take quite time before desired effects manifest. This is an argument for developing habits of exposure to fine or noble notions, as opposed to base input (like porn or violence) if you want to change your mindset.

On the other hand, we are exposed to enriching ideas that register with our non-brain-based awareness – so we may end up in a kind of inner tension – of ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ kind. 

Intelligence

Heaven forbid that I should decry the human brain, but it should be proportioned. 

  • The eternal self must be developed as a fit controlling power.
  • In trying to act DIRECTLY on the highest – call it organ – possessed by man, his eternal spirit, we are constantly interfered with by the more developed, the more easily developed side of him which clamors, INSISTS on translating every instinct into its own language and limiting it to its own experience and comprehension; insists we should go no further than the facile ready-made symbols its world education sanctions. 
  • We have to ignore it as much as possible, keeping it quiet by systematically baffling its efforts at restriction.
  • Meanwhile, under this anaesthetic we work directly, stimulating the enduring part, trying to develop it. It should be the dominating part of man.
  • When this has been developed to its proper proportion, then the intelligence will have its innings again. 
  • The intelligence is an essential part of the whole, but it simply must be quieted down and made flexible in any way possible, in order that we may give insight beyond its comprehension.

Comment

It seems that efforts to stimulate us spiritually are often thwarted by our insistence on translating everything into physical terms – emotional, instinctual intellectual. You can see this as an explanation as to why religions turn out the way they do – converting high spiritual ideals into sometimes shameful brutalities, disgraceful enmities and mind numbing dogmas.

The higher faculty of perception isn’t framed in intellectual terms – and scarcely in language. If we are conditioned to internal dialogue (self-talk) as our norm it will be hard to escape the merely intellectual.

Perception beyond reason

  • An animal dwells in his equipment of instinct, sensation, emotion and habit; with fragmentary incursions into an adumbrated faculty of reason. 
  • Man uses these also; but he has moved the centre of his being more into the mental field, so that, as he develops, more and more intellect dominates his life.
  • But reason is not the end of the line. Beyond it lies perception. 
  • And, again as he develops, more and more will he transfer control, until eventually it will hold in his life the same dominant position he now accords to intellect. 
  • This thought, we are told, is not fantastic – as the ultimate possibility. 
  • Probably we, as individuals, in this present life, shall not reach any such attainment. 
  • But how many of us have got even as far as complete intellectual control? However, we can move along that path. We can increase, little by little, our use of perception in the management of our daily affairs.
  • And if we do so easily, normally, without forcing, without strain, we may astonish ourselves.
  • Mistakes? Of course! But, the invisibles pertinently remind us, what is our batting average of correct decisions of pure intellect.

Comment

I like this notion – that beyond intellect (which is a processing thing) is perception (which is awakening into knowing) – though I think there is some refinement in the definition of perception needed here.

Conclusion

This first instalment deals with some basic, but essential ideas:

  • We are at many different stages in our evolution as spiritual beings – so expectations and judgements must be tempered accordingly.
  • There is value in physical existence – it fosters a capacity for discrimination in action and desire.
  • Our minds are not our highest sense of awareness but are attuned to physical existence.
  • By education and experience our brains are configured in ways that can impede our ability to assimilate spiritual ideas.
  • As a result, spiritual ideas are translated into renditions that can debase and distort the intended meaning.
  • There is value developing refined habits of mind – of ‘soaking’ the brain in finer ideas so that the rigidities of education and experience will eventually soften.
  • The intellect is transcended by the capacity for perception.
  • Our goal should be to inhabit a state of perceptive awareness.

UFOs /UAPs a question of national defence? No

Introduction

Over the past 12 months the USA government has been obliged to make public comment about UFOs. Its preferred term is UAP, which is even more non-specific – Unidentified Aerial Phenomena.

This necessity has a risen because of the leaking of footage of UAPs taken by US military jets using probably the most sophisticated sensing hardware and software on the planet.

The US government, while insisting it still has no idea what a UAP is, asserts they are a potential (and unresolved) threat to national security. If that is a credible assertion, we can infer a threat to all of us.

However, it is not a credible assertion. Here I want to discuss why I think this.

The Report

On 25 June 2021 the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report titled Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. It was a surprisingly short document for such a monumental theme, running to only 7 pages, with 2 pages of appendices.

There was a flurry of public comment, but the report seemed to have disappointed popular media, and it soon disappeared from public consciousness. 

The essence of the report’s findings was:

  • There’s stuff happening.
  • We don’t know what it is.
  • We need more research, and more money to do it.

According to Wikipedia, “On 17 May 2022, members of the United States House Intelligence Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation held … the first public congressional hearing into UFO sightings in the US in over 50 years.”

The hearing perpetuated the national security threat theme. So, two public events in 12 months. Interesting.

The problem with this is…

UAPs have been in the public consciousness since 1947 when Kenneth Arnold introduced the term ‘flying saucer’. The US government has been involved, with some degree of public acknowledgment, in trying to figure out what UAPs are for at least 75 years.

The idea that they represent a possible threat to national security now, and more funding is required to do more research is so absurd it is either not true, or it is grossly incompetent – or a blend of both. I prefer not true.

The fog of the national security blanket

You can use the term ‘national security’ like an anaesthetic and put public opinion to sleep. It is also an excuse for saying nothing, revealing nothing and be as vague as all get out.

The inference is that UAPs constitute a potential military threat. However, that is nowhere explicitly stated. The audience is left alone to infer that – which it has done readily.

The absurdity of a military threat

The recent publicity re UAPs has come courtesy of leaked footage from military aircraft because this is compelling evidence that ‘something’ is going on. It does appear that UAPs have been intentionally engaging with US military aircraft and ships with increasing frequency in the past few decades. This may also be the case with other nations as well, but they are not saying so openly.

However, engagement with the civilian population has been reported for around 70 years as well. It isn’t unusual for an enemy to engage with an opponent’s civilian population to enlist them as allies in a possible invasion. But such action is predicated on a need to do so – as might be the case between near peer opponents. Not in this case.

The technological disparity between US military hardware and UAPs is stark. It has been over the past 75 years – and there is no evidence there has been any meaningful improvement in that difference.

It is a fair conclusion that if there was to be a ‘hot war’ between the US military and UAPs it would be short and catastrophic for the US military. This is an important consideration for two reasons:

  1. If UAPs were the product of peer, or near peer, nations like Russia or China, why would they ‘toying’ with the US for years, and not pressing their advantage in an effective geo-political manner?
  2. If the operators of the UAPs had hostile intent, why spend decades ‘toying’ with military forces while being friendly to civilians? At what stage would the plain military advantage be pressed – if that was the intent?

I have spent a few months on the unpleasant task of catching up on military hardware and method. I grew up with a passion for World War 2 war games, so I had a set notion in my head about capability and tactics. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I have realised my understanding is utterly out of date.

What became apparent to me was that the evolution of our power to destroy continues in a disturbing fashion. If what is imagined comes to pass it will be far worse. However, looking at the disparity between our military capacity now and 75 years ago makes it apparent that the disparity between us and UAP operators is even greater. If they wanted to ‘invade’ we would be defenceless.

It is certainly not comfortable for any nation to be aware that it has no capacity to defend against a technologically advanced adversary – a situation most nations are in when considering human adversaries. It is far harder for a nation like the US, acknowledged as having the most advanced war fighting technology on the planet, to face this realisation.

Sticking to the idea of a ‘security threat’ as a military threat is convenient because it distracts attention from a far more challenging idea.

An existential threat?

We must ask what is the ‘security’ that is perceived to be under threat. It is not military or territorial so much as the conceit we are the superior beings on this planet, and we will stay that way.

In effect, our ‘normal’ is under threat. This is arguably our ‘security’.

There is no evidence I am aware of that the operators of the UAPs intend to change things any time soon. If they have an intent, it seems like a long game that appears to be about evolving attitudes and behaviours – rather than shifting them via radical disruption to our norms on a collective level. It is, however, certainly true that individuals have had their norms radically disrupted by encounters with the operators of the UAPs.

ET?

The US report mentioned above declined to talk about ET or aliens because, fair enough, there is no evidence ET operates the UAPs. This is true, so even if inferring ET operates them is on the money – and we confirm this in the future – we can’t say this is a fact now. There is no evidence peer war fighting nations operate them either. We do not know who does.

The term ET usually means beings not of this Earth, but from elsewhere in our realm of physical space – space people. But if we understand ET to mean just beings not of the Earth, without any assumptions, that can also mean elsewhere from other planes of existence as well.

Our habits are to imagine reality as an extension of the plane of existence (horizontal) we are on – unless we have cultivated an imagination that allows for other equally real planes of existence beyond our own (horizontal). The horizontal vector has been confined to religion, mysticism and shamanism, fairy tales and fantasy/sci fi. It exists in science also but hasn’t entered our shared imagination as a form of reality we can grasp. We haven’t yet developed a cultural narrative that blends science and technology with extra-dimensional realties.

ET as spacemen/women who come from elsewhere in our physical space may be a limiting idea we must abandon. However, we do not know where the UAPs come from, and so can make no firm opinion about who they are – unless we have direct knowledge.

There are claims made by people who insist they are in touch with ET. Most of the ones I have read are, I believe, delusional. The others are intriguing but without confirming content. There are tantalising hints – but nothing is being given away.

I do think people have been in contact with ET, and maybe they do know who they are and where they are from – and why they are here. But it’s not public knowledge yet.

Conclusion

The US government’s action over the past year seems like a watershed of some kind. There are a lot of YouTube videos exploring how real the UAPs are. They seem to have been prompted by the report. It is hard not to conclude that here are real phenomena whose nature and origin are not presently knowable – and about which we must pay attention.

The big question of intent is the problem. Takeover by force does not seem to be a goal. Nor does turning up to ‘rescue’ us or provide environment saving energy technologies. The intent is not evident, but can, I believe, inferred to some extent.

There is no concrete evidence about who operates UAPs. If the US military evidence is taken in isolation trying to imagine that peer war fighting nations may be responsible can seem plausible. But placed in a wider, and more appropriate context, we must imagine that ET is a plausible explanation as well.

I do not favour the peer war fighting nations argument because it does seem deeply implausible in the wider context. Better informed critics say the same thing. It is implausible because the technology gap is way too wide. It is deeply improbable that China or Russia would have obtained such a scientific and technological advance on the US without giving any clue. And the conduct of UAPs is not consistent with comprehensible conduct of an adversary. This conduct seems to be a lot of ‘messing with’ military assets, rather than being provocative in a military sense.

I favour the ET option because it makes the most sense.

What appears to be happening, from my perspective, is a stimulation to foster growth in awareness of what it is to be human. This isn’t always benign. ET can be a risk to us as individuals at times. Nor is there any assurance that all ET are ‘good guys’.

The theme is deeply complex, but many will try to render it as simple and concrete – ignoring it all is the easiest option. As an old sci fi devotee I am more disposed to see this in terms of potential benefit, as part of our shared evolution. As such, I do not expect it can, or will, be explained in neat and easy to digest ways. However, there may be signal events whose significance becomes apparent after the fact. I think US report and the hearing in the past 12 months are in this category.

The Politics of Experience: A Reflection on What Exposure to PSI Does

Introduction

I have been trolling through a mass of fragments of writing on my psi experiences – efforts I have made at recording them, and which have been abandoned in various stages of completion.

There’s nothing spectacular to boast about. I am not ‘psychic’ in the way that term is usually understood. I can’t simply turn on a performance. My experiences can be better described as an unwitting (and sometimes unwilling) sampling of a smorgasbord of incidents and examples. It was as if Spirit was intent on keeping me modest, never cocky enough to claim expertise.

Experience matters, because it is what influences what you think and believe. If you have had no significant experiences, a proposition that might seem suss to me might seem plausible to you. And a proposition that seems plausible to me might seem like wild nonsense to you. 

It is never my intent to have you believe what I say – only to allow that it may be plausible and worthy of deeper inquiry and reflection. An explorer who returns from a distant and unfamiliar land can lie and exaggerate – as well as render faithful witness to remarkable things and places. An audience, without the means to verify his claims can only be cautiously enthusiastic. This is the peril we all face when encountering novel ideas.

I have learned to be very sceptical and cautious of claims of a paranormal nature. There are liars, pretenders and the self-deluded aplenty. Sometimes it is safer to not want a thing to be true; and test it severely. By that I don’t mean taking a position of denial and demanding proof certain be offered. That never works – and its arrogant and lazy. I mean allowing something may be true and engaging with it with care. The most dangerous situation to get into is wanting to believe. Not everything is what it seems to be.

The Point of Experience?

Sometimes things happen and years later I am still wondering what it was all about. Was it just a demonstration of power? Was it forcing me to think beyond my normal frame?

Quite a few experiences were useful in that they provided immediate real-world results. Others guided/pushed me in a certain direction that turned out to significant.

I want to make a point here. I have become attuned to the influence of spirit. Others may well have psi experiences and not see them as that. We all have theories about how the world works running in the background – and it may well ascribe a psi experience to an entirely different cause.

In the same way that learning a discipline like architecture, psychology or chemistry gives us a capacity to see some experiences in a more nuanced light, developing an animistic vision alters how we see, and interpret our engagement with our life experiences. You can do something similar through adoption of a religious belief. I am not keen on beliefs systems beyond them being an initial guide. Unfortunately, adherents to, and promoters of, belief systems tend to be deeply invested in them as a complete answer. They are not – for anybody with a hunger for unmediated engagement. This is why I prefer to think in terms of learning a discipline – and not adopting a belief.

Belief is necessary in a contingent sense. When we were growing up and at school we learned about the Periodic Table, and we had to accept this was real and valid knowledge. We had no way to evaluate it. If we didn’t ‘believe’, we’d find making progress in learning chemistry impossible. This is what derailed me with maths. When I was told that -1x-1=+1 I got stuck on the logic of the proposition. The maths teacher couldn’t explain it to me. Suddenly maths looked as irrational a belief system as religion. I regret that now. Sometimes being a smart kid can make you stupid as well.

We have to believe a bunch of things just to make life possible. But the difference between these necessary operational beliefs (the thing I called my car yesterday is still my car today) and existential beliefs about the nature of reality is vast. Existential beliefs don’t always directly impact your experience of being in the world on an operational level. Whether you believe in gods or magic does not impact day-to-day beliefs about the world at that operational level.

The Sacred

Now this is where things get interesting. The moral psychologist, Jonathan Haidt identified a sense of the sacred as a moral value often missing in progressives. Here he was talking about US politics. A lot of progressives are atheists. And many who retain some sense of religion have rendered it a background sentiment only.

The idea of the sacred includes things that are valued as well as things to be avoided. This goes beyond religion to include symbols, places and dates that are important to a sense of national identity. It also includes family, cultural and even personal domains. When religion and nationalism combine it can be a potent mixture. For example, there is a powerful persuasion in the US that the nation was founded as a Christian nation, which it was not.

Belief in the sacred does not, I think, go away among those who might deny the idea has any sensible meaning. Rather, it transforms into rational and abstract things like ‘science’ and ‘justice’. 

Our ancestors needed a strong sense of the world they lived in. They ‘felt into’ the world of their experience using senses far more acutely tuned than ours. Europeans scoffed at the ‘primitive’ and ‘savage’ (two words employed to describe indigenous people in the 19thCentury, and the early part of the 20th) for their beliefs. These people were not ‘civilized’. This distinction is interesting.

The word ‘civilized’ essentially means town dwelling. The opposite was ‘pagan’ (a country dweller). Historically, as Christianity spread out over Europe, it took root in towns first, so the more distant rural communities retained their traditional ways longer.

But there’s a more important distinction. Town/city dwellers had less direct contact with food getting and became more involved in works arising directly from denser levels of human habitation. Differences between types of sensitivity became distinct. A city dweller did not need the acute alertness to the forest dweller needed to stay safe and find food and other necessities. Their senses were tuned to the human, and the human made. As these domains came to dominate, the natural diminished.

The human domains evolved in power and importance – and became pre-eminent as expressions of reason. The intuitive was channelled into art. The human dominated environment discouraged acute sensitivity, and relative insensitivity became the norm. Reason dominated intuition and subtle awareness. It was considered superior and anything else was dismissed as weakness of mind and superstition. 

I am not suggesting our forest dwelling ancestors were all psychics, just more tuned and more sensitive to the world they lived in. Some would have been far more attuned and sensitive than others.

This is where a sense of the sacred comes in. Places in a landscape could be powerfully beneficial or detrimental because of the quality of the atmosphere of the place – its spirit. Objects can have their own potency too. But places and objects can have sanctity ascribed to them as well. A place where an important event took place might be designated sacred. An object can become symbolic – the Christian cross is a prime example.

Places can carry human induced potency – battlefields and cemeteries for example. These can become psychically dangerous places to be avoided, save at special times.

We call awareness of the subtle emanations of the sacred ‘psychic’, but perhaps it is better to say it is a subliminal awareness rendered conscious through a particular level of sensitivity. How that sensitivity is acquired is the question to answered. Whether it is of value should also be considered.

Whether and How

Let’s consider whether developing that sensitivity has any value these days. Most folk do perfectly well without it, or so it seems. But in truth there’s a huge sense of existential angst about.

There is sound evidence that humans do better where is some nature about – even a solitary plant confined to a pot. What is it in our nature that responds to the presence of plants and animals as if they are part of something essential to our wellbeing?

Perhaps being confined to the purely human shuts us off from the more than human dimensions of our reality. Cities are the very epitome of ‘civilization’. They are human creations for human needs and interests. At their worst they are a cacophony of overstimulation wreathed in a toxic atmosphere. At their best, nature is permitted in and nurtured.

But other-than-human is not just about the nature we can see. It includes the web of subliminal connections of all kinds. Research into trees shows that they are not the individuals we plant in our gardens and parks. They are knitted into webs of inter-species connection. Even our own supposedly individual bodies are, in fact, communities of unalike creatures working to the common cause of being our flesh and blood.

To be fully human, we must go beyond the homo-centric focus of what we do and think and make. We must remember we are members of a community, and our well-being depends upon the other-than-human and the greater-than-human, and their interaction. 

Being mindful of, and sensitive to, those community members is, I think, a good thing.

The how, is easy, if you accept the above proposition. Be mindful. Be open to the sense of being a member of a community – and be a good community member – and a good neighbour.

I don’t believe in doing exercises to increase sensitivity for its own sake. Engaging in efforts to be intentionally more aware of your membership of the community is a different matter. This might be a good meditation theme, or something to affirm while in the garden, or on a walk.

Spirits

A lot of my ‘psi’ experiences arose from contact with ‘spirits’ of some kind. This was never something I sought out consciously. In fact, it was often unwelcome and bewildering.

The nature of those ‘spirits’ varied as well. Some were what are called ‘nature-spirits’. Others seem to have been guiding spirits who never made their nature or present apparent to me on a conscious level.

I do firmly believe that we do have a community of souls or spirits with which we are connected. But that does not mean that they will flagrantly intervene in our lives. It also does not mean that any intervention or influence is absent, but rather something of we are simply not aware of at the time.

Don’t go looking for contact with spirits with careless enthusiasm. Over the years I have come across many instances where a desire to make contact has led to misfortune. I am not saying do not seek contact, just don’t leave yourself open for whatever comes along. There’s a difference between contact with spirit being a growth experience and pandering to one’s ego. It’s not always useful thing, and generally speaking, when it is it will happen without you pushing it.

I will repost my earlier essay on the theme. Do read The Siren Call of Hungry Ghosts. It’s a fascinating story in its own right, as well as a cautionary tale. 

Conclusion

I will post an essay listing my experiences soon. As noted, they are not spectacular – well, a few are. The point of sharing them is their variety and their impact on my life at various times.

My purpose is to awaken a deeper thinking about the subtle levels of awareness that we can develop to become more alert to the influences upon our lives. 

Our lives are multi-dimensional in their expression. At any time, the influences of this material world interact with the influences of the subtle dimensions. Mostly we miss this interaction for two reasons:

  1. We don’t have a model of our reality that allows for the interaction.
  2. We edit out evidence for it because our self-talk is primed to materialism.

Our reality is much more subtle and multi-dimensional than we consciously experience – well most of the time.

Of the One, not as the One

Introduction

I have been listening to Matthew Stewart’s Nature’s God and I am intrigued by the number of philosophers who insist that there is only one God. An interesting, and strange thing to insist upon. Why does it matter?

We have, I think, a self-limiting problem with the word ‘god’. It is used to describe a subset of divine agents as well as a supreme state of being. 

In the Christian Bible God was there in the beginning and made a list of things. Gods were not in that list. But elsewhere in Genesis God is made to speak in the plural – we. 

Now consideration of gods and God shouldn’t be confined to Christianity. I use this faith as a reference only because it is the faith tradition the philosophers were most familiar with – and so it would have been their primary source of ideas. This is despite their familiarity with the Greek philosophical tradition – grounded in polytheism. The Greeks, to be sure, were not necessarily fond of their gods in any case, so maybe didn’t inspire a lot of inquiry. 

Monotheism is confusing

The Christian Old Testament had its roots in the polytheistic traditions going back to Sumer. The early Jews were resistant against monotheism. In fact, the Old Testament contains quite a few exasperated rants against their recalcitrance. This, incidentally, is better discovered by listening to an audio version of the Old Testament. I found reading it pummeled my critical faculties into submission. I don’t think the OT is suited to being read at all.

Monotheism is an innovation which makes little rational sense and has more utility as a political device or a means of social influence. The idea disrupts tradition and sets up a distinction against other cultures.  There is certainly utility in the idea if the intent is to create a distinct community identity – which may have a perfectly good rationale – given that in polytheistic societies it was not unusual for a community to follow just one god – the god of a city for example.

Monotheism still needs sub-agents, so it has developed archangels and angels. In short, you can’t have just a single homogenous notion of deity and express complexity with any ease or clarity. The Jewish Kabbalah is an excellent instance of how a metaphysical model can be developed to deal with complexity under a monotheistic system. 

But we don’t know what gods are 

The problem with the idea of polytheism is that it assumes that there is some kind of equivalence between gods and God. True, we have the shared word, but beyond that there’s the fact that the gods are represented in human form – or some human hybrid or some animal. 

But representations such as these can’t be assumed to be more than symbolism and the use of narratives to convey ideas. We do this, for example, with Justice. We don’t literally mean justice is a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales. The symbolism conveys meaning in a potent and concentrated form. 

The Egyptian Greek gods stood for complex ideas represented in symbolic and narrative form. At their foundation is an assertion that reality is grounded in spirit – what we might call consciousness these days. Our ancestors did not have available to them the notion of abstract rational ideas that described a mechanistic reality. 

So, we have 2 classes of beings who might be gods – fundamental principles or values and actual discrete volitional agents. In fact, these were often combined – like the god of war or the goddess of love. 

The question is whether such agencies could exist as objective beings. And, because we haven’t really accepted that such beings might exist, we have not explored the idea intellectually. Mostly, where these gods are accepted it is their symbolism and innate (but unexamined) reality that are affirmed.

The idea of the One

There is an important distinction between one God and the One, though the former seems to impose upon the latter. The One might be called God, or Goddess as a primary expression of all being – infinite and eternal. But that’s more a case of gilding the lily than making a useful distinction – save that Goddess fits a sound narrative and symbolic form. The One, as an idea, is beyond description and characterization on a rational level. In the shorthand of the mystic traditions, it is that it is. This has been expressed also as “I am that I am”, or more simply “I am”. Such assertions are not literal utterances. They are attributions that convey an essential idea – there is a fundamental absolute being that is beyond all conception or description.

So, the idea that there is only one God is redundant as a rational idea. It is neither useful nor necessary outside of making a political statement – a denial of polytheism. There can’t be conflicting supreme deities. But it does appear that the polytheists of old were not above promoting their local god to the top job. But that can’t be the One – because that can’t be a job.

The God of the Old Testament cannot be the One, if for no other reason than the presence of the words “In the beginning” and the description that God was separate from that which he acted upon. The God of the Old Testament is a creator god of the old polytheistic traditions – a subset of the One. He cannot be understood without the context of the polytheistic narratives as a whole story of creation – all the way down to the creation of values and principles.

Opposing monotheism means opposing the legitimacy of the god of the Abrahamic tradition. Accepting many gods legitimizes the awful faith of pagans. But supporting monotheism simply condenses the vastly complex affair of creating reality into a too simple notion. It could be said, in fact, that monotheism led to the creation of modern rational thought and science as humans struggled to find an alternative way of making sense of the complex reality they experience.

So, do we need gods?

First, let me create a definition of ‘god’ here, so we can think about the same thing. A god is a coherent volitional agency functioning at a scale greater than the human. For example, we know a human is coherent volitional agency operating within an environment that has both internal (bodily fact and subjective awareness) and external domains. We know this because we have direct experience of this being true. 

These days we assume that our solar system is only a system of interacting physical processes. We do not assume it has a character or intent. We have no direct experience of this, so we assume it not to be true.

However, our early polytheistic ancestors did not make such a presumption. The sun, moon and planets constituted a coherent system – and we see the remnants still in astrology.

The monotheistic conception of God has given no coherent sense of how that God acts in the world, in our reality. What has been produced is an incoherent cacophony of prayers, priestly intercessions, and confused conceits of being favoured. A typical problem for monotheists is that of attribution of cause and effect. What favours them is of God and what does not is of the Devil or down to sin. The one concept of the divine has to do all the work of explaining reality and how to live in it. That’s a heavy burden.

The polytheists had a far more coherent model. But was it more effective? Probably not in the long run. I’ll come back to this.

If we play with the idea of the solar system as a coherent and intentional being, we are dealing with a hugely complex thing – beyond any capacity we have to imagine its full nature. 

By the mere use of the word ‘system’ we are acknowledging coherence. But beyond a purely mechanistic conception our thinking grinds to a halt. We could dare go further, but we must cast off the shackles of materialism.

How does God work?

The standard conception of God, post creation, is influence by supernatural means. Depending on your beliefs, this supernatural influence may be exerted by God, Jesus, Mother Mary, or saints and priests.

By contrast, the gods of the polytheists are exerting intentional creative effort constantly, if capriciously at times. Unlike the monotheist’s God, humans are not the primary concern of the gods. They have their own lives and priorities. The monotheist’s God has done his work and is now chiefly concerned with how ‘His children’ behave. Little wonder the Deists found this idea unfulfilling. 

Now we are caught up in the subtleties of faith, virtue, and obedience. The monotheist’s sense of their God as a stern but loving father essentially makes it all a supernatural psychodrama.

In short, the monotheists’ God lurks around his now automatically running creation with an unhealthy passion for those he made in his image to behave as he imagined. It’s not a very edifying notion, and the extent to which this influence works it is so subtle as to seem non-existent.

On the other hand, the gods are active agents in the reality they co-creators of. Their creation was not deemed perfect at the end of a set of phases. To the extent that humans have a necessary concern about how the gods behave, to ensure that avoidable misfortune is avoided, there is no sense of dependency upon them – other than that they maintain the fabric of reality.

The problem we face as humans is the habit of assuming that the gods are inordinately interested in us. We must break that habit. We don’t assume the planets, or the Sun, are interested in us, yet by what they are, and what they are doing we exist. There are subtle and knowable physical forces that impinge upon us constantly. In fact, the same is true of our galaxy. Might it, at some vastly deeper level than we can imagine that the galaxy is also a coherent intentional agent?

If we imagine our reality governed by intentional agents rather than mechanical processes, we are doing more than merely paying lip service to the oft asserted notion that consciousness underpins all. We are allowing that that conscious may be organized as discrete agents below the level of the One True God because this model of organization fits the ‘as above, so below’ credo. Rather, as below so above. We can infer only from the small to the large.

If we reflect upon the Epicurean Nature’s God, we can imagine that if nature is the expression of the divine it may divide into discrete agents as part of the sensible organization of reality. 

Gods not only make sense, but they also seem necessary.  However, this does not mean that we understand them – neither their intent nor their nature.  We can infer that they may be real only.

It might be reasonable to ask, why then bother with the notion of gods? Well, they either exist or they do not. If you assume they do not the chances of discerning evidence of them will be greatly reduced. Allowing that they may exist at least reflects a modesty and a curiosity which may be rewarded simply because it permits the opportunity of awareness. Yes, of course, this will be also permission for self-delusion. 

Can we move on please?

We can see that over the past 3 millennia there has been a steady evolution of human consciousness in various places at various times. There is no sense of uniformity. Its more like chaotic progress. Today many millions of people live with the idea of many gods, and a great deal of others with the idea of only one god. A lesser number think there is no god, no deity of any kind at all. And there are many who do not care.

There is a growing enthusiasm for the idea that reality is underpinned by consciousness. But what does that really mean beyond asserting that matter isn’t the foundation of being. It may mean to some that ‘consciousness’ is merely a sub-material thing that is just as inert as the materialist’s matter. Ultimately it is hard to distinguish between intentionality and chance in any distinct way.

Consciousness is, I think, just as problematic a term as god/God. But these are early days in our efforts to fuse science with the precepts of the mystics and the religious. We are forced to use ill-defined terms because we are yet to achieve intellectual clarity in the way we think about non-material ideas. And even here one need only see how we employ the word ‘space’ to have meaning for both the volume of a cupboard and the universe.

We must move on from the language we are using. God and gods have so much baggage and intellectual muddiness they are less and less utility. Note, please, that it the language that’s a problem, not the underlying ideas. We can’t deal with them until we sort the language out.

In a strange way, we are far more likely to encounter gods than God. This is because as we explore systems and improve our understanding of them, it will be the smaller systems we will get to know first.

Conclusion

I have been encountering spirits my whole life – coherent intentional agencies that have interacted with me in sometimes shocking ways. Once that interaction was so compelling, I felt I was being irradiated by an intense sunlamp that left me struggling to remain coherent and barely capable of movement. My companion was similarly affected and entered a trance. What happened next was a flooding of my mind by a consciousness that was utterly beyond human. There was no malevolence, just an intensity so great it was oppressive and disorienting.

I have also spoken with discarnate humans whose intelligence and power were beyond doubt. One asserted that the gods were real, that they were “of the One, not as the One”. They were not, he assured, human inventions.

My direct experience is that there are coherent intentional agents who primarily exist in another dimension and interact with ours. This is routine apparently. They are part of an ecosystem, and sometimes a community. They function in nature and in direct relation to humans. I have no idea how that situation scales up – planet, solar system, galaxy? How large can a coherent intentional agent get?

If our reality is as fecund and teeming with spirits as the ancient Greek thinkers affirmed, and I think it is, the conceit of ‘being alone’ seems utterly foolish. Monotheism has collapsed our vision and dulled our senses. Materialism has made us wrong-headed and dull witted. The systems of thought we loosely call polytheistic seems to me to be more in accord with my own experiences, but that does not mean their models of reality suit our needs.

There’s a lot about modernism that is refreshing and corrective. It has broken thought ways that had become moribund and brought new ways of apprehending reality. But it has its own conceits and dogmas. The west has been recovering polytheism for the past 150 years or so. This process has been enthusiastic, romantic, rational, and silly as we have struggled to rediscover that sense of animistic complexity and coherence that I think we intuit lies beyond our materialistic and religious dogmas.

I am for gods. I wish there was a better way of naming them though. Some have offered the Egyptian ‘Neter’. That works for me.

Nature’s God

Introduction

This is a quick reflection on a book by the philosopher Matthew Stewart – Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.

I have an interest in the political and cultural influence of Christianity in the US. In recent years the claims that the US was founded as a Christian nation have been getting louder – as Christian fundamentalism has been more enthusiastically enlisted into a growing culture war.

But going back to the 1970s I came across assertions that America’s founding fathers were Freemasons. These were defended by claims that Masonic symbolism is to be found on the US dollar bill. Certainly the ‘great seal’ image supports this assertion. 

However, I hadn’t come across as scholarly exploration of what the ‘founding fathers’ thought and believed – until now.

Deists and atheists

Stewart combines an historical account of the activity at the foundation of the split from England with a deep dive into the evolution of deistic thinking. He rescues Epicure’s philosophy from travesty of self-indulgence it had been reduced to, and traces it via Lucretius’ poem, On the Nature of Things, into the essential thought of western philosophy during the Enlightenment.

Emma Restall Orr’s The Wakeful World is the only other book I have encountered that takes a spiritual perspective on western philosophical thought.

Atheism, in this context, is not the denial of deity so much as asserting that god is not a being apart from nature – no separate creator and created. The two are one. There is a brief allusion to Epicure saying this unitary being is the goddess. Stewart also acknowledges ideas about gods in the same context but doesn’t elaborate to any useful degree. This is fine. It’s not his purpose. Nature is its own creator, its own god, so to speak.

The deists essentially acknowledged god as having made everything has no further engagement. This allows them to also insist that nature is the source of all we can know. No point in calling on a god that will not answer.

No so much anti-religionist as anti-superstition

The heroes of the book disposed of the idea of the God of the Bible being real on the logic that all descriptions of it offend against reason. That is all humanity has to work with – and to surrender it in favour of a rationally offensive fiction is an incomprehensible thing to do. They do not abandon piety, however – hence the idea of Nature’s God.

The anti-Christianity sentiments are strong. Quite apart from the faith’s superstition, its adherents’ insistence upon it being the only permissible belief system creates a tyranny. The wording of the Declaration of Independence makes it clear that not just the tyranny of England is being refuted. There is an essential reason none of the ‘founding fathers’ were Christian.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

People must be free to make choices essentially. Religious freedom was locked into the Constitution via the First Amendment. You really can’t imagine the Christians of the time ensuring religious liberty.

The value of this book

The conception of Nature’s God, so plainly asserted in the US’s Declaration of Independence, has not been previously explored with such clarity. That alone makes the book worth reading. But in that exploration, we are treated to an examination of the foundation of philosophical thought during the Enlightenment. It was spiritual in a way not usually acknowledged.

Here I use this term loosely – as an expression of piety – a humility before the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. The only true instrument humans have is Reason. This, in a sense, makes this “Atheistic piety” scientific. 

The focus on Reason in the common telling of the Enlightenment misses that sense of piety. It has permitted the impious atheist to evolve as the hero of our culture. 

Materialism was once predicated upon the proposition that matter was the very foundation of being – Nature. It became an assertion that all there is gross matter, and there is no subtle domain of reality. True, the original conception supposed that atoms were the primary constituents of being – a forgivable error in 5th century BCE Greece.

Read the right way Nature’s God is an extraordinary examination of the thinking that is at the foundation of our civilization. Our propensity to develop dogmas and superstitions is still evident in some expressions of Christianity today. But it is equally present in the impious materialistic atheism that has come to dominate our culture.

Conclusion

If I declared myself a materialistic atheist these days, I would astonish those who know me well. But, strictly speaking, that is what a believer in the Goddess is. The One – that vast eternal and unknowable foundation of all being is neatly symbolised in the idea of a Goddess – rather than a God.

It would be truer to have asserted Nature’s Goddess, but ages have their limits and there is no way that Nature’s Goddess would have survived in the Declaration of Independence. In any case it hardly matters, since such a nuance is not something to be avowed in public, and certainly not in the presence of ardent Christians.

For me, the discovery that atheistic materialism had a deeper foundation than the crass dogmatic superstition it has become was a delicious insight. I was grateful to be reminded of the inherent spirituality of Enlightenment philosophy too.

The book didn’t explore deeper metaphysical ideas. That was not its purpose. The term superstition is now often employed as an insult asserting credulity and irrationality in the formation of a belief. It is essentially the formation of a belief without evidence or sound reason. Acceptance of the Christian God can be fairly called an act of superstition – without insulting intent – if there is no defensible rational foundation (misattribution is another, complicating, matter). But the term has been employed by the impious and dogmatic atheistic materialist to dismiss all things that do not fit with in their narrow frame. 

It is just as superstitious to dismiss what does not fit with that narrow frame. Concluding without evidence or reason what does not exist is equally a folly. The better path avoids the hubris of intellectual conceit in favour of a gentler path of pious curiosity and humble intellectual discipline.

The Declaration of Independence was first published 1776. That’s 246 years ago and its not long in the scheme of things. What has driven our civilisation’s evolution since then has been Enlightenment values – not always perfectly expressed of course. What has brought us peril has been impiety, hubris, and intolerance.

I like to remind myself of John Dewey’s insight – there really isn’t such thing as Religion. There are religions and religious people. Likewise, there is no Science, only sciences and scientists. Is there is no Christianity – only sects and believers? Not all Christians can be tarred with the same brush, but the brand has become tainted. The style of Christianity that the US Founding Fathers so disliked was intolerant, hubristic and impious. It is worth wondering how the world might be now if an aversion to such a form of faith was absent in America’s founding.

The American passion for ‘Freedom’ was, in the words of the book’s title, born of a heretical determination framed by a profound commitment to Reason. That reminds me of Stephen Jay Gould’s assertion that Science and Religion are “non-overlapping magisterial”. If he means Reason and Superstition, he would be right in a way – save that superstition is mere innocence of mind and nothing else.  Sciences and religions overlap all the time, and are the yin and yang of our consciousness.

Reflections on thesis conclusion

Introduction

I posted my Masters’ Honours thesis’ Conclusion today (1 May) and had another read of it. I read it a few months ago. And before that, in 2010, shortly after I graduated.

The thesis title, An inquiry into animism as a source of meaning in response to radical and disruptive non-ordinary experiences, still has an emotional resonance for me. I started the thesis in 2002. I wanted to wait a few years, but because I was granted a scholarship, that was not an option. My then partner had started her PhD at the same time and having two people working on their theses in one household at the same time was not a smart thing to do.

I struggled for almost 2 years for frame my research question. I began obedient to the assertion that one should inquire into a theme one was passionate about. The trouble was that my passion had never been articulated in a disciplined way. It had been driving me, but more like a haunting spirit than a guiding hand.

There was one event that triggered clarity. I will quote from Chapter 3 of the thesis where I describe it. I had been leafing through Funk & Wagnell’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend and glanced across the page at ‘animism’ to read; “The belief in souls; the attributes of spirits or personality to physical objects or phenomena…” (Leach, 1975 p. 62). It was a starting point that emerged, ineluctably, as a compelling central theme for my subsequent thinking. It was unexpected and forced a complete rethink of the original project.

It was far more dramatic than that. It was an epiphany that left me stunned. There was an instant flood of recognition of the implications of the idea. I was astonished and confused. I had never knowingly encountered the word animism before. This was even though I had been reading on themes related to and embracing the essential ideas of animism for decades. Why hadn’t I come across that word before?

The experience was like sitting with a hopeless jumble of jigsaw puzzle pieces with no idea what the final picture would look like – and then getting a sudden intuitive flash of the completed puzzle.

There had been a single organising idea absent from my experiences and thought for decades. True, I had vague ‘spiritual’ notions of a unifying sentiment or principle, but nothing so concrete as the sudden flash of awakening encountering animism gave me. 

It took me a few more years to finish. There were difficult times. As I revisited my early experiences with psi phenomena, I triggered memories that forced me to process surprisingly powerful emotions – a kind of existential PTSD. Even though the thesis was autoethnographic I was unwilling to record the real depth of my reactions.

 The final form was not submitted until late 2009. This wasn’t an intellectual exercise anymore. It was a kind of spiritual ordeal. I April 2008, I contracted a severe case of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), which put me in hospital for 10 months. In the 8 months of subsequent home-based physio before I could get back to work, I had to rework the whole thesis.

While I got a letter saying I would graduate, I had no feedback comments. By that stage I didn’t care. On the level where it mattered the thoughts of the markers were irrelevant. This was a personal matter.

Together, the thesis and the GBS transformed my thinking – and have continued to do so. The Conclusion was an affirmation of the transformative dramas – on an intellectual and spiritual level. It condensed time before GBS and after into a single moment. Here I want to revisit it and see whether it has stood the test of time, and my ongoing inquiry.

Three themes

I want to take only 3 themes from the Conclusion – to keep this essay at a decent length. They are the environmental movement, technology, and urban animism. I have selected these because each speaks to our contemporary world in powerful and singular ways. I haven’t researched these themes in any deliberate academic way since I graduated. I read, listen, and watch widely, so I also am curious as to whether any of the themes has become prominent as part of the general conversation.

The environmental movement 

From the Conclusion: Animistic thought is finding a place in the environmental movement, as it seeks ideas and language that better articulate emergent values and ideas. Mack has argued for a ‘new psychology’ to express such values and ideas as core and key to a needed change in attitudes and conduct.

The most telling development for me has been the greater accessibility to indigenous ways of knowing. There are more books and podcasts tackling animistic themes; and expressing a far more sensitive awareness of planetary lives – even as persons, as kin.

The environmental movement has dropped off my radar. It is unsubtle and jarringly political from my perspective. Greater sensitivity to, and awareness of, environmental issues has been growing – chiefly because of ‘natural disasters’, and the advocacy of ‘climate change’ activists.

I don’t think we are seeing the emergence of a ‘new psychology’ just yet. But I sense a hunger for it. Engagement in metaphysical ideas or ‘woo’ isn’t an issue if you have a predisposition for it. It is a problem is if you want to get there from a materialistic perspective there is no rational pathway yet. In a way, the reliance on ‘science’ has impeded the development of an articulate and deep value vision. And the passion for a kind of ecological sentiment without a countervailing reasoned foundation has impeded it as well.

I see an opportunity to develop a ‘new psychology’ based on what we do know, and what we know we need to know. Rational assertions of immanent peril are not working. We need stories. Stories are the foundation of the psychology of driving change. That means we need smart informed and creative thinkers on the job of developing an intentional transitional psychology – getting us from where we are to where we know we want to be.

I didn’t like the idea of New Animism that appealed to some in the environmental movement when I was writing the thesis, and I haven’t shifted from that position. It may help for environmentalists to have a greater awareness of the natural world as the home of kin. I am not disputing that. What concerned me about New Animism was that it was, in my view, an adaption of an idea intended to modify and support another idea. It’s the ‘New’ that bothers me. I came to animism as an idea that made sense of my experiences. I did not see it as something to explain or organise my thought. What I see as animism is far more than New Animism offers.

That said, I don’t oppose New Animism per se. I see it has value in expanding awareness of environmental advocates. It’s just not what the name says it is. Animism, as an idea, is far more than that. Far better is to learn from an indigenous perspective how to think about the natural world. Braiding Sweetgrass is a good place to start.

I am aware that in New Zealand that the Whanganui River was granted personhood under New Zealand law in 2017. That is a powerful thing to do, but to what extent the spirit of the intent has been honoured in action I do not know. That’s something I will follow up on. Again, this is a case of the indigenous perspective being a guide. 

We do need to build these other ways of knowing into our own. This may be the foundation of a new psychology – to create a shared ‘value vision’. I use this term advisedly because envisioning a destination in a rational sense is restrictive. Such a vision must be values based – but values based on, and articulated through, a psychologically informed philosophy. It must, of course, embrace the precepts of animism.

I have no doubt there are exciting and inspiring developments that I am not aware of. I can speak here only of what I am aware of as a person who is open to, and curious about developments in the environmental movement. I will allow that in today’s deeply fragmented media, there are great conversations happening on platforms I do not engage with.

Technology

From the Conclusion: The other area potentially rich in opportunity for inquiry is technology… In some ways designers are employing the potential implicit in technologies to impose a new kind of animism on us. Machines are engaging us, drawing us in to animistic relationships. I perceive a metaphysics of the machine that can help us explore extension of the human domain beyond the physical – engaging with the energies operating on the sub-strata of material existence. Is it entirely co-incidental that it is animistic analogues that take us there? 

I think it is now beyond doubt that we are animating our devices in wholly remarkable ways – and we are nowhere done with the potential. There is a possible future world in which those who live in ‘advanced’ economies will live in an AI drenched world. Echoing Thales’ ‘Everything is full of gods’, we might say, “Everything is full of microchips” (or whatever new term we develop). 

Between the internet of things, AI in everything, and robotics we might find ourselves living in a machine consciousness-based constructed environment. Such may take centuries to eventuate, but the early steps are here, and they are only the beginning.

Humans crave belonging and acceptance. It’s hardwired into our biology and fundamental to our spiritual ideals. Those who live in close connection with country know also that such a craving extends place and the kin lives who dwell there.

The rational separation between thing and living, or meaningful, being is not fixed. Things imbibe attributes beyond their intrinsic form via experience (just by being in time and space). And they acquire meaning because of that experience. Things ain’t just things. You know this when the property of famous persons sells for many times an item’s ‘normal’ price. Hence a guitar that would make say $5,000 normally might sell for $1m if it belonged to a rock & roll legend.

Some things are made sacred or imbued with a kind of secular manna

and are thus elevated beyond the normal. We can argue whether the ‘spirit’ expressed as monetary value is the same as the idea of the sacred. I think it is, and that’s an argument I am happy to have.

I really have no thoughts about AI infused human generated objects, beyond their occasional convenience. As a person with a disability, I am grateful I can say, “Hey Siri” and make stuff happen.

But what I will observe is that machine animation is not a surprising development. We may be amazed by what is happening, but we should not be astonished that it is happening, or that it can happen. Humans have been making automata for millennia. We are answering an innate impulse.

We really must stop talking about ‘Artificial Intelligence’. In the sense that the term denotes human made, it makes some degree of sense. But artificial can also imply fake; and confer a sense of invalidity.

If consciousness is the foundation of all, its manifestation in what we call intelligence should not be surprising – when the opportunity to do so arises. Human made devices are opportunities for consciousness or intelligence to express through the natural process of humans being humans.

Urban animism

From the Conclusion: Urban animism offers the opportunity to explore how we vest living significance and meaning within whatever environment becomes our ‘natural habitat’…We may comprehend a human- centred animism describing the built human-mediated environment in terms of the ghosts and spirits of history. 

I think that if we fuse our modern passion for automata with the urban environment, we can see that not only will many people live in situations dominated by human-caused structures and objects, but they will all have histories and interpretations that resolve into underpinning human stories – as well as engaging with us.

The distinction between natural and artificial is essentially a distinction between a presumption of objective mechanical forces and a perception of intelligent agency. It is very much a materialistic point of view. A religious view distinguishes only between divine and human. The Christian view, which I cite because it is still the foundational faith of our culture, was closer to the animistic (everything is full of God). Christianity simply stripped the multiplicity of voices down to one. 

The idea of urban animism is essentially an idea of sensitive awareness to human causes, heritage, ownership and meaning. It should also include how these attributes of the human-caused intersect with the natural/divine agencies and systems.

The story of what we grandly call Civilisation is the story of humans crafting and transforming their operational environment from one that was wholly ‘natural’ to a fusion of ‘natural’ and ‘human’ to one dominated by human artifice.

That transformation has been fuelled by a biological imperative to survive, and a deep non-biological impulse to express metaphysical aspirations. The city became the apex of human expression – but one born in contestation with, and disdain for, the ‘natural’. In the history of the evolution of the city over the past two millennia, ‘nature’ has been a vital resource and a dump – debased as crude and savage, fit only for domination and exploitation. That exploitation has included enjoyment of what has been tamed.

The tension between wilderness and the urban remains confused and unresolved. The deep sense of contestation lingers unresolved. The idea that the urban has the same claim to an animism of its own is not yet a comfortable idea.

It is still a field of great potential.

Conclusion

From the Conclusion: I can best sum up my sense of the potential for future research by repeating Guba & Lincoln saying that “we stand at the threshold of a history marked by multivocality, contested meanings, paradigmatic controversies, and new textual forms.”  

I love this statement. Animism is a wholly inadequate term for the rich lifeworld of indigenous and other sensitive peoples. It was a western European conceptualisation that had a pejorative tone to it. But we do not have a better one yet. New Animism merely skimmed off surface notions for a purpose nowhere near holistic as is needed to give fuller insight into the potential.

I have retained the word more as a signal for what lies beneath it – a deeper, more coherent potential source of meaning. In a sense it is a political affiliation – in the politics of ideas. I reject New Animism because it is not an intellectual or spiritual spade to dig deeper, rather something to make mental sandcastles with. That’s fine. It has a purpose and value, but it’s not enough for me.

From multiple fields of human inquiry, we do indeed stand at a threshold “marked by multivocality, contested meanings, paradigmatic controversies”. It should be an exciting time. In a way this may be said of multiple times in the preceding centuries going back for millennia. There is no certainty that what we know and believe now will endure even a decade hence. A sense of curiosity and a passion to seek deeper meaning will always place on a threshold.

We have a choice – to cling to knowledge and beliefs we feel were hard won, and deserve to be preserved because of what we have invested in getting there; or adapt to a more dynamic response to how things are. It is true that the threshold we may be standing on is applicable only to inquirers, and not believers. The alternative to is step back, close the door, and enjoy our knowledge and beliefs as they are for a little longer. That’s okay.

In terms of inquiry, now we have multiple looking glasses as entrances to our own paths to a wonderland. Animism is my looking glass. Sometimes I look into it, and it looks right back. Other times I can see through it to an alluring realm of possibilities. Our challenge is to fuse our looking glasses into a shared instrument of inquiry.

We must also learn to carry the fruits of disciplined rational inquiry in the same basket as spiritual sensitivity and insight. They are not the “non-overlapping magisteria” Gould asserted. They are the yin and yang of our consciousness, dancing together – when we let them.

Thesis Conclusion

How has the research addressed the thesis questions?

I asked the two key research questions:

  1. How do I make sense of non-ordinary experience on a personal level?
  2. Could I find a way of fitting my experiences within my parent culture’s ontologicalnarrative?

The personal

All three recounted experiences that illustrate the precipitation into deep ontological crisis can be accommodated within the spectrum of ideas that constitute animism. That is to say that certain conditions or circumstances may lead to non-ordinary events occurring as a consequence of animate agencies intruding into the ‘normal’ realm of personal reality – conditioned by a cultural ontological frame to deny or reject such things. In this respect animism provides a wider paradigm that makes such experiences possibly valid – they can happen. I know they did.

However, this explanation should not extend to the role of giving personal ‘meaning’ to the experiences. That something can happen and did happen does not explain why it did happen. The “Why me?” question can be answered within the frame of animism, but at a more personal level of asking what possible relationships exist between me and the range of possible intelligent agencies opens up deeper issues of meaning and reason that remain unresolved. In seeking an answer to the question “Why did these things happen to me?” I needed to ask “Of what possible benefit is the precipitation of an ontological crisis?” One answer is that it generated the motive force for a journey of discovery, arriving at, for the moment, this research project. This suggests the possibility of meaningful and purposeful experiences may be had long before meaning or purpose can be discerned. But this supposes ‘meaning’ to life of a bigger stage, for which I have offered no evidence or argument. It is a choice, irrational maybe, that I elect to make in order have some sense, no matter how illusory it may ultimately be, of coherence, of meaning. So my focus has been not on ‘why’ but whether there is the prospect of intellectual validation.

I spent a good deal of time thinking about crisis experiences, including reading extensively on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I wondered whether there was any necessary distinction between what I had been through and any other kind of critical incident, and concluded that there was not, at least in terms of the sense of disruption and dislocation. The precipitation of ontological crisis in consequence of uninvited and disruptive non-ordinary phenomena, or as the unanticipated by-product of intentional acts, is almost a cliché. Life changing experiences are not rare. There are innumerable challenging or catastrophic events that precipitate the experiencer into a crisis of meaning. That my experiences were of the paranormal variety marks them as perhaps extraordinary, but the drama that followed is not especially remarkable, save that it was expressed in a peculiar context and related to a particular theme. The realisation that I was, in effect, just another person struggling to make sense of a dramatic intrusion into my life was a sobering and necessary thing.

The cultural

The idea of animism permeating sacred and secular thought, as a ‘natural’consequence of awareness and perception, suggests to me that I can locate my struggle for meaning making within my cultural paradigm. Of course, it cannot be located within that aspect that insists on the fundamental ‘error’ of animism (or anthropomorphism) or persists in denial of the paranormal. But there is a significant community of those who are exploring deeper meaning and other ways of knowing, and here it has a natural place.

From the time I began to undergo the drama of ontological crisis in the early 1970s many deep shifts in knowledge and values have altered the cultural landscape. Nevertheless there is still the risk of inhabiting the pluralistic environment as an isolate, bound off by beliefs, language, practices and hubris that mark one as not a full member of the wider community, save in the sense of tolerated inclusion. This was the risk I saw in the Western Mystery Tradition, and later in Wicca. The danger of set specific beliefs, ideas and language is that of inflating one’s particular set to precedence, as if it has universal, rather than a context-based virtue. The merits of ideas risk being lost in the accoutrements of groups and cultures, as if the ideas belong, natively, to the set. Each individual map is but a perspective of common country, and none, of themselves, are wholly representative.

Exclusion and the denial of validity of experiences or ideas serve a critical function of defining membership of a set, group, community or culture. But when cultures become complex they lose their homogeneity, or their illusion of such, and learning this was an important lesson for me. I could belong, but I had to understand better the complexity of the culture in which I lived.

The fact that Western culture is in need of revising its ontological frame is, I think, well enough established. Being a participant in that revision might be a good way to see myself. Cultural revision begins at the level of personal experience, so I might be permitted to think that my experiences are part of a larger cultural movement towardsrevision.

I have located my experiences within a common and knowable domain that is animism though it is a fragmented, blurred, and contested domain. I have resolved the dilemma occasioned by my dramatic, disruptive, and dislocating non-ordinary experiences in relation to how I fit within my cultural narrative by showing that there is a coherent pathway of thought that functions within my culture and which is exploratory and creative.

I have not set out to create an alternative ontology but have sought to resolve apparent conflicts and mutually exclusive contradictions in a way that privileges no particular cultural frame. In the course of inquiry the contingencies and contextual cautions that were identified in the methodology have shown to be consistently relevant across the spectrum of ideas encountered in the research of literature.

Western ontology is not homogenous, but complex and context sensitive and full of power plays for dominance, or, at least, acceptability. Certain elements have attained dominance because they reflect practical, utilitarian and pragmatic responses to changing human needs, especially for material stability, and especially in the political and economic domains, with resultant impact upon intellectual and cultural areas. At the edges of those public domains the ‘spiritual’ continues to interact and contend with the formation and perpetuation of discourses on identity, relationship and meaning where material and non- material imperatives intersect and interact.

The dominant materialist ontology has established particular notions about the nature of identity, relationship and meaning in relation to the Earth (and Heaven if one considers the ‘materialistic’ aspects of religious thought), and these appear to be unsustainable and harmful. There is an emerging vigorous and contentious dialogue that represents a vital perpetuation of an ancient endeavour – to engage with and understand the physical and metaphysical domains, and how they intersect within the lifeworld of human experience.

My initial attempts at validation and defence were tentative and self-protective, but as my examination of meaning-giving cultural discourses progressed I found a location that enabled and preserved my sense of full membership of my culture. This seems to reflect an evolutionary progression common to historically excluded discourses, as might be seen with feminist, queer, disability, and multicultural voices.

A reflection on the possible role of animism

I have sought to establish a chain of argument that works through the consequences of the experience of radically disruptive non-ordinary events and towards a theoretical position that locates them within a rational ontological construct that does not demand fleeing from my parent culture. The initial drama of experience was matched by the dislocating problem of not being able to find a fit for it within the ontological frame of the ‘normal’ world of my culture’s ontology.

The sense of ‘misfit’ within my culture and the dilemma concerning how to remain within it or seek the solace of systems based in other cultures turned out to be an illusion, the product of my own ignorance and naivety. The ontology of Western culture is not homogenous, but a dynamic constantly changing and evolving environment. It is, however, dominated by large forces that contend for supremacy, and which oppress and exclude other voices. This includes suppression and oppression of perceived opponents. But the culture is also permeable and porous, adoptive and adaptive and this enables the struggle for acceptance, toleration and validation by minority or non-conforming voices to progress.

The struggle for personal validation of direct lived experience, especially that which intrudes upon and challenges the universality of the dominant ontological prescriptions and proscriptions, is an ongoing dynamic that has great potency in the present age. Individual lived experience, and the validation of non- conforming knowledge, is now honoured as the age of individualism matures. The implications for shared experience are less ‘scientific’ and more human-centred, concerning shared and mutual understanding and engagement. This reflects a wide appreciation of the complexity and uncertainty of knowledge itself, and more so as it applies to the human experience.

The object of this thesis was to work through the journey of attempting to reconcile the experiences and resolve them into a coherent ontological frame that may have meaning and validity to the Western mind. The focal point for doing so was the idea of animism. The essential precepts of animism accorded with my direct experiences, both the involuntary ones and those later intentionally sought, but the idea of animism itself did not present itself as a cohering idea until at a much later stage.

Animism, when explored in greater detail, presented a more complex and coherent thought system than in its popularly conceived aspect: as a primitive and erroneous knowledge system that rightly belonged an earlier evolutionary stage of the human psyche. As the concept was expanded, it became evident that the essential precepts of animism had a home in contemporary Western culture on many levels – unconscious and reflexive as well as intentional.

Anthropologists and psychologists see that animism, along with anthropomorphism, permeates Western thought and worldview. Some see that animism is virtually fundamental to human consciousness and perception. I argue that this persistent attribute might be understood as Animistic Consciousness, an innate human propensity to see the world in animistic terms, whether wholly within the human mediated sphere of civilisation or in relation to the natural world. This suggests to me a psychic analogue of the reptilian brain that functions at an unconscious and instinctive level to maintain the physical human body, and without whose continued operation that physical body would cease to function. I propose an equal level of consciousness that has an equally vital function – that of maintaining essential human psychological functions of relationship, identity and meaning – in relation to the material world [especially the natural], and the immaterial domains.

While we might consider the reptilian brain as primitive, we would not consider advocating its eradication and replacement with a new improved version. Instead, we live with, and honour its role in maintaining our essential physical presence in the world. I suggest a similar attitude towards the fundamental mechanism of our psychic well-being would be appropriate. Animistic consciousness links us to our world, and beyond the human mediated to the natural. At the deepest level it participates in the sense of fellow feeling with other lives and acknowledges a larger sense of living being than might be otherwise evident to the rational senses.

Cultures that share animism also share a sense of a binary nature of reality, and especially the presence of an inhabited and interactive realm beyond the physical. We can see how this natural apprehension, denied unfettered expression, finds expression in analogue of imagination and now in the conception of cyberspace. The challenge is not so much accepting the idea of an inner realm but accepting the reality of it. The reliance on physical sciences as the primary authoritative determinant of what is real has arisen, in part, because the failure of religion to maintain a credible narrative on the realm in relation to which it has asserted supreme authority – a gatekeeper of experience and knowledge. As a consequence, the methodologies of science have set the limits at the boundary of the physical world. So we have become accustomed to living without knowledge of what is beyond it.

For the most part living without that knowledge has not been evidently problematic because when the inner world has intruded it has been contained through diagnoses of madness, acceptance of error, accommodation of occasional strangeness, and tolerance of religion. Secret beliefs or removal into a sub- set community of shared ‘secret’ knowledge have also been accommodated and tolerated where eradication has not been effective. But on the other hand, it has enabled the mythic inflation of elements of the material world to act in a substitutional manner as surrogates of essentially metaphysical functions. The apparent ultimate failure of this inflation has become one of the ‘hungers’ now seeking satiation in non-traditional and contentiousways.

Animism in this context needs to be ‘recovered’ in Charlton’s sense, and it needs also to be honoured as an experience and respected as a discourse or narrative – as a natural heritage. And for those who choose animism as a philosophy it needs to be accorded due respect.

Animism has the potential to re-engage physical being with a sense of the sacred and the numinous, to extend meaning and value into secret domains beyond appearances.

Further research possibilities

There is little evidence of contemporary systematic thinking about Animism in what I’d consider a sympathetic manner. Harvey (2006) is sympathetic but essentially redefines animism, creating a ‘new’ interpretation. It has its merits in that it appears to enable engagement with elements with animistic ideation without having to deal with the ‘metaphysical’ side of it. Harvey asserts that he is, in fact, rescuing Animism from disrepute and I’d agree he is, but only partially, though usefully. Guthrie (1995) addresses animism as a perceptual strategy, but from a squarely atheistic position, thus reinterpreting it against a default ‘scientific’ context of anthropological inquiry. The difficulty with Guthrie’s position is, however, that the scientific model of inquiry does not properly extend into this domain. The scientific disciplines of examining human being and conduct are not yet accompanied by a fully-fledged science of human experience. That is to say there is no actual scientific examination of whether spirits exist or not. Neither is there exploration of what the experience of spirits might be as if such spirits were real. Guthrie theorises on what the experience would be if they were not. Thus we are dealing with speculative thought: theory based upon opinion based upon certain assumptions. It is fully useful only if the assumptions can be supported by evidence and hold to be true. Otherwise what we have is interesting scholarship with limited practical application.

In contrast to Harvey and Guthrie, Frankfort et al (1946) and Radin (1957) exhibit a certain comfort with spiritual and magical ideas in their examination of ancient and “primitive” thought. Here aspects of the animistic experience are thought through rather than redefined, and this is because the root premise is accepted (that there is a spiritual domain, though this also is an assumption). These inquirers share an acceptance of the spiritual as a given in human thought and experience. It is the obverse of rational or scientific atheism. The debates are about method and interpretation. Frankfort asserts that the ancients saw the world as a ‘Thou’ as opposed to the post-Cartesian ‘It’. Radin disagrees, arguing that this is a kind of armchair misinterpretation that relied upon mistaken perceptions and interpretations of inquirers locked in the vice grip of ethnocentricity, albeit unconsciously so. However he does not actually articulate precisely an alternative proposition. Radin criticises Tylor in this respect. While Radin is no doubt also subject to criticism he does exhibit remarkable and sensitive insight into magical methodology, and hence his ability to interpret evidence is, in my view, superior. Neither Frankfort nor Radin offer any critique of Animism per se. Their values lies solely in exploring animistic ideation in a sympathetic manner and within a  greater context of intellectual and philosophical thought .

If we take a time line from Tylor to Harvey at either extreme, and Radin in the middle, animisitic ideation has been employed to many ends. It has penetrated, but not permeated, our culture as an evocative descriptor whose precise meaning is not always clarified. It’s use is artistic rather than rational. On the other hand the experience of what Tylor called Animism appears to permeate our lived experience. This certainly seems to me to be true at a cultural level and, I would argue, at an individual level the experience varies from the mild and benign to the radical and disruptive, even catastrophic. There is, however, no disciplined or structured examination of common experience, so my comments are impressionistic. The challenge is to define what constitutes an animistic experience and then search for it. I would anticipate that such an inquiry might well demonstrate that there is a greater level of experience than admitted or spoken of. The ghosts and spirits of Tylor’s inquiry retain a persistent presence in contemporary fantasy and in ‘folk’ reportage.

There are related ideas. This is, for me, one of the most exciting domains for further inquiry, and also probably the most contentious. Animistic thought is bound up with the notion of another world – the proper domain of spirits, the realm of dreams, the territory of the shaman; and to which we might fruitfully add the domain of imagination. There are two questions – whether this elsewhere is as substantive as is reckoned within animistic thought and whether is has any role to play as a source of affect upon our familiar reality. We are accustomed to dismissing this realm as “just” imaginary but on the other hand accept it as the repository of archetypal psychic forces. I am not presently aware any sympathetic studies that embrace the full potential extension of this vital element of human consciousness.

Various thinkers touch upon it. Redfield (1968) distinguishes between moral and technical orders of human experience in his consideration of the distinction between ‘primitive’ and ‘civilised’ living. Armstrong (2001) explores ideas of mythos and logos in order to articulate the differing kinds of consciousness in her exploration of religious thought. Frankfort (1946) considers the emergence out of mythopoetic consciousness into rational thought, a theme also explored by Jeynes (2000) as the emergence of consciousness itself. So some see distinguishing states of consciousness that may denote degrees and types of development or evolution or attunement.

In spiritual and religious thought there is widespread thought of other dimensions of being. There is, in short, a near universal acknowledgement of another domain to human experience. It might be called the mythopoetic imaginal realm rich in moral energy (here I wish to distinguish a certain kind of dynamism that concerns itself with issues of conduct – the virtuous or ennobling actions as well as fears and failures). This domain appears to be fundamental to animistic thought. That is; it appears to be a necessary companion to human life experience. It is part of the lifeworld of the ‘primitive’ Animist, and it is part of the lifeworld of even the sophisticated atheistic Westerner. There are, I think, clues to suggest that there may be an essential psychic architecture to this domain. It may be that we have, in the contemporary West, evolved so that the locus of our consciousness is no longer substantially located in this mythopoetic domain, but it is a different and possibly perilous thing to argue that it no longer exerts a vital or fundamental influence upon us. In fact, Newberg et al (2001) comment on the value of religious ideation in life in contributing to our health psychological.

There is a certain desire from dedicated rationalists to see human destiny as entirely liberated from the legacies of instinctual and mythopoetic impulses. This is an extreme view that champions what is conceived as reason as the highest and most valued attribute of humanity. At best this is an emergent quality confined to a few extraordinary individuals. The general human condition, from the tenacious remnants of traditional cultures to the urban sophisticates of Western culture, remains true to both instinctual and mythopoetic impulses, as much as it is responsive to reason. This fundamental trilogy remains the essential constituents of the human lifeworld for the time being.

The advent of sophisticated technologies has enabled not an orgy of rational and reasoned content in movies or on television but a ‘bringing to life’ of the fantastical in evermore elaborate forms. We mine the potential of our mythopoetic heritage to construct popular entertainment of increasingly compelling character. And we ‘animate’ these same technologies with presently rudimentary smarts as if we are driven by a desire to render our servant machines intelligent and capable of communication as if they were fellow animate beings. Here we may perceive a convergence of high reason expressed in the deeply sophisticated technologies and the science that enable them and that ancient imaginal capacity that give a stage to archetypal psychic energies. If our view of this convergence is to lament it, seeing a degradation of fine machines as mere servants of whimsy and fantastical irrational nonsense then we risk divorcing two remarkable human attributes – the rational and the imaginal. If we rather permit the marriage of both, then the intellectual prowess we apply to one we might also apply to the other.

But this requires genuine free inquiry, not engaging with ideas bound about by pre-conditions that insist upon an assumption of atheism as the responsible and rational default position. In my view the presently scattered and fragmentary engagements with animistic ideation do not, come close to tapping the potential for examination and exploration of the subject matter.

There is a number of areas of particular interest on a more concrete level.

We can explore the kind of animism that is bound implicitly within religious and spiritual practices not traditionally widely accepted within the ‘old’ West. There is a growing multicultural element within the ‘new’ West (no longer dominated by a singular ethnic, cultural and religious bloc) whose religious traditions are steeped in animistic thought and practice. Added to this is the growth in Pagan  and Shamanic practices and thought among members of the ‘old’ West.

Animistic thought is finding a place in the environmental movement, as it seeks ideas and language that better articulate emergent values and ideas. Mack has argued for a ‘new psychology’ to express such values and ideas as core and key to a needed change in attitudes and conduct. The extent to which such a new psychology is predicated upon animistic ideation based upon a disciplined conception of Animism is not something I’ve explored. The extent to which a psychology (as a science) is influenced by a philosophy in the context of the various permutations of animistic ideation might be usefully explored.

Urban animism offers the opportunity to explore how we vest living significance and meaning within whatever environment becomes our ‘natural habitat’. If animism is an innate impulse then it will apply as  a mode of perception whether the environment is ‘natural’ or human-made. In design and art, in planning and in conceptualisation of the built environment as the dominant domain of human experience there is a potential to merge inanimate and organic elements into a unified discourse. We may comprehend a human-centred animism describing the built human-mediated environment in terms of the ghosts and spirits of history.

The other area potentially rich in opportunity for inquiry is technology. We create devices, systems, and media in response to desire and need. But how we interpret that desire and need depends upon what assumptions we have made about our nature. In some ways designers are employing the potential implicit in technologies to impose a new kind of animism on us. Machines are engaging us, drawing us in to animistic relationships. I perceive a metaphysics of the machine that can help us explore extension of the human domain beyond the physical – engaging with the energies operating on the sub-strata of material existence. Is it entirely co-incidental that it is animistic analogues that take us there?

Animism is but a portion of the wider prospect of validation of an innate propensity for the spiritual/religious that may be confirmed in brain and other scientific research fields. If this transpires, we will have to rethink a good deal of what constitutes knowledge about our psychology.

Despite the dominant Western aversion to the metaphysical and the spiritual humans have persistently demonstrated a profound responsiveness to ideas and values that transcend the physical. It may be a response to a genetic heritage that bids us obedience to the greater good of the species. But this shared survival imperative has its own metaphysical implications. We do not yet understand the root of our motives for noble and self-sacrificing actions. Animism, as a pervasive and universal aspect of consciousness, may be a vehicle for penetrating that mystery more deeply.

Guthrie illustrates perhaps the most critical and interesting potential for future research. He surveys the range of ideas that ‘explain’ animism and anthropomorphism in terms of error, whether of a cognitive or interpretative kind. The view is that humans have evolved from error to superior, and maybe even correct, interpretation of experiences and perception. This, however, demonstrates only one way of considering the evidence. Under an alternative philosophical orientation, the apparently innate propensity for humans to see the world in animistic or anthropomorphic terms might be a response to the way things are. What appear as errors or vices under one way of knowing can be seen as truths and virtues under another.

We can perpetuate the now shaky assumption that knowledge has an objective dimension, or we can embrace more completely that notion that knowledge expresses relational and contextual interplays between human experience and perception and the things experienced and perceived. So whether we interpret the world in terms of wrong/right or in terms of context sensitivity – whether in determinative or contingent terms – matters a great deal.

As our culture is enriched through the acceptance of diverse people whose heritages bring knowledge systems and cosmologies the challenge to critically examine the dominant knowledge discourses of the West, already seen to be problematic, must precipitate uncertainty and contention. This can be taken to be a disruptive consequence against which defence must be mounted or an exhilarating opportunity.

I can best sum up my sense of the potential for future research by repeating Guba & Lincoln saying that “we stand at the threshold of a history marked by multivocality, contested meanings, paradigmatic controversies, and new textual forms.” (2005, p.212)

A final autoethnographic thought

At the top of Katoomba Street, here in Katoomba, there is a pre-loved bookshop. It is usually closed when I walk past it, in the mornings and evening, to and from the station, on workdays. Today is Saturday and it is early morning. The shop is closed. Almost always I stop a moment to survey the books arrayed in the window. Recently I discovered Brunton’s Hidden Teachings Beyond Yoga, a book I had not seen in over 37 years. Today I saw a Hesse and several other volumes that immediately recalled my turbulent years in the early 1970s. The sight of the books threw up powerful images. I could immediately recall the circumstances of reading them.

The bookshop has become a potent time machine that activates images and emotions long since locked away and overlain. The exultation of a new idea, the agony over the wretched struggle to make meaning, the frustration of ignorance, and those occasional blissful moments of the sweet illusion of comprehension – they all come tumbling back. It has seemed to me that over the past few months, especially, these trigger books have appeared in greater profusion, agitating me into a turmoil of thoughts and emotions at a time when I am grappling with the last stages of writing this project.

At the point of ‘enough’, when one knows it is time to abandon something and leave it to fend for itself in the world, the shop window has become an elegant articulation of beginning and ending – the commencement of my journey is now before me as I come to an end – going far does mean returning, so it seems. And as I write this on January the 19th 2008 I am also suddenly struck with the fact that it is three days before my birthday, and two days shy of the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death – another potent articulation of ending and beginning.

Suddenly I am thrown back to a day in the mid 1970s. I am travelling by car from Strahan to Hobart. My wife is driving. There is a sudden strong gust of wind and debris is driven across the road in front of us. I say “Merlin has just died.’ She laughs. She hates it when I do this. “How do you know?” She asks, because she has to, not because she wants to know. “The world just told me.” The conversation flags, and I note the time. When I get back to Strahan, I confirm Merlin was shot just about then. Merlin was a stray blue heeler who adopted us. He was smart and spirited and a mischief-maker. He was harassing chooks in company with other dogs when he wasshot.

The world often ‘speaks to me’, so I see the shop window as a point where it and I intersect in a dialogue about my project. Sometimes it seems that, John, the shop owner, collaborates by provocatively arraying the books and titles to trigger a potent thought or emotion for my journey, or, as today, spur me to scrawl in my notebook over an early morning coffee.

Of course, I may not mean that John is a collaborator in any sensible sense, as if there is an external truth to the notion. Rather the dynamics of the bookshop window is a nexus between me and something else, and it is where my sense of self chooses to find meaning. De Quincey’s notion of self as choice and Briggs’ & Peat’s moments of bifurcation meld to allow me to choose to be reflectively and creatively responsive to what I see. The content in the widow must be there as much as the permitting of potentialities must be there in me. I have a degree of freedom in interpretation only because I let scope of possible meanings find its own horizon.

At a certain level of metaphysical thought whether the cosmos is or is not animate, or is or is not meaning drenched, is an unanswerable and pointless question. Reason and intellect cannot satisfy a sufficient degree of testing any such hypotheses. And there is sufficient complexity and uncertainty for any such proposition to be lived as if it were true, with a sufficient number of validating experiences to make seem to be true. Choosing one hypothesis or another creates potential interpretations that then influence conduct, and whether one chooses one or the other seems dependentupon influences beyond personal control. I choose the animated meaning-drenched interpretation of the cosmos because it seems to be in my nature to do so, and because my life experiences have orientated me towards such a choice. It is a choice potential that I can go with or struggle against, and the more I go with it the happier I seem to be.

This does not suppose that there is an external truth or an entirely internal one, but rather a truth that intersects and interacts across the self/other boundary. A key thought that emerged for me in the course of the research project was that of how senses of identity, meaning and relationship work in concert to create a sense of what is real. I cannot say whether the cosmos is animate or whether it is meaning drenched, or whether it matters whether it is or not. But what I can say is that for my sense of identity, meaning and relationship it seems to matter a great deal, and hence I choose what matters to me.

What has emerged for me, in the course of this project, as the essential ‘take home’message, is the proposition that humans are naturally imbued with an animistic impulse. Regardless of its status within the collective ontologies and paradigms that constitute the profoundly complex psychic environment of Western culture, it is a birthright, in relation to which we have an innate liberty of choice to leave it latent, unconscious or engage with it actively and creatively in our meaning making endeavours.

If this project has a contribution to make, I see that as being a step towards the restoration and healing of permission to make that choice, if it is in one’s nature to be inclined to do so.

Postscript

A volume I had entitled “A” Transcripts Vol 1 had been commenced in the early 1980s. I had intended to undertake the large job of transcribing the 40 odd audio cassettes of recorded conversation between me and the discarnate entity who had spoken through PJ. It was a task I did not finish, and there are only 53 pages completed. It had been the most neglected of my journals as I had penned most of the transcripts in my magical diaries. Towards the end of 2007 I took the leisure of going through it, in case I might find something worthwhile to be included in the project.

On 11 March 1979 I had asked about the voices that had precipitated my drama. These were the three entities ML had encountered in her bedroom. This is what I recorded in response to my question:

A: These (are) discarnate entities with whom you have profound psychological links. 

Me: Ah, could you explain.

A: No.

 End 

The Individual, Personhood, and Solitude

Introduction

Now and then I find myself drawn to books that seem to be a long way from where my thinking is at. Such a book is The Sovereign Individual: Mastering the transition to the information age. I also read/listened to the The Fourth Industrial Revolution, by the Chair of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab.

The concept of the sovereign individual is interesting. The idea of a sovereign was obviously familiar to me. The Queen of England might be thought a sovereign individual in a sense. In this instance it is an idea of an individual who is not fettered to nation, person, or place in a primarily economic sense. The focus of the book is on how the Information Age will impact our world to such a degree that how things are done, and what is considered normal, will change radically. And in this environment the sovereign individual can flourish. 

The sovereign individual is an attractive idea for those who believe that accumulating wealth for its own sake is a good pursuit. It is a particular philosophical approach I have no sympathy for, but it was good to explore it. I read Schwab for another perspective on a similar theme. I was surprised to discover that Schwab has a more humanitarian, even spiritual, perspective on the same change scenario.

The Sovereign Individual is an extreme expression of the idea of the individual incubated in a certain intellectual and moral environment. I was curious about it because of Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. This book is a masterpiece exploring how the emergence and evolution of Christianity fueled the development of our idea of the individual. I have been musing on the idea of the individualfor a few years now.

It is certainly true that the Information Age has transformed how we interact and engage – and will continue to do so. The need for persons to stand out in terms of their passions and ideas (as misguided as we may think they are) has been afforded a magnified intensity via the lens of social media. 

There is a pervasive sense of disappointment, injustice and powerlessness that has been given a voice that can influence governments in ways not seen before. It will be some time before that can resolve into a positive agency. At the same time, we are struggling with our relations with the planet and its greater than human life web, and we are struggling with our own human-to-human relationships. Let’s add to that the compelling sense that life from elsewhere is messing with our awareness as well. It’s a turbulent time.

I have just listened to a show on Plants as Persons on Wisconsin Public Radio’s To The Best of Our Knowledge podcast. It struck me that personhood and individuality are definitely not the same thing, despite what my Oxford Dictionary asserts – personhood is “the quality or condition of being an individual person” and person is – “a human being regarded as an individual”. An individual is “single, separate”. So, person is an individual in a state of being singular and separate? No. But that is how we encouraged to interpret the idea.

Particularization is a better idea.

Our biology and psychology say we cannot be ‘individuals’ in any complete sense – not single, separate. A better term might be a particularization, denoting an emphasis or concentration, rather than something that stands alone – stands out might be more to the point.

Separate individuals cannot exist. We see a tree standing as if alone, but beneath it is woven into a web of lives. A single oak in a park does not have the same quality of being as a single oak in a forest where there are other oaks. It lives, but not as it might. Individuality is not an optimum state for a tree.

If we see ‘individual’ as a something we distinguish from a community – a particular person – say a member of a football team – rather than someone separate from, we will have a better idea. A single footballer is of no value if there is no team. A single oak, distant from its forest kin, isn’t the same as one growing with its kin. It is separated. We did that – because that’s okay by us. We like individual specimens separated from kin.

The word individual is fine, it’s the meaning we ascribe to it that is the problem. Over the latter part of the 20th century being an individual apart has been a handy concept for predatory marketers who prey on insecurities, fears, and senses of powerlessness. The sense of individuality is the last bastion of hope before obliteration and meaninglessness. It has become the refuge of the hurt and angry, who believe they cannot turn to family or community for safety and belonging.

The idea of separation is very modern. It may reflect a conflict between tradition and modernity which emphasises a greater level of mobility and separation from old ways and structures. But it expresses a transitional state, rather than an absolute one. We are always seeking belonging and community.

This matters because particularization is a very different thing. It Is not a separation so much as a greater focus or concentration. The individual is simply more prominent, but still connected. A bleating lamb is still part of the flock even though its cries draw our attention. We hear the cries, identify the source, and see a particular lamb. It is individual, but not separate.

So, plants can be persons, along with fish, fowls, and human folk – and none are apart from their kin in any real way – until we remove them. We are okay with separation. We do it all the time. Perhaps we have a profound sense of separation in our cultural DNA? At the root of our western religious tradition is the story of expulsion from paradise, followed by a tale of genocidal slaughter via flood. And this by a ‘loving father’. Its nice to feel wanted.

In fact, our culture is founded on a demand for redemption, as if we were born wrong. In Australia the indigenous people experience intergenerational trauma arising from our expulsion of them from their paradise, followed up with genocidal efforts. And we have tried to make them feel wrong too.

The victims have become the perpetrators. The separated have become separators. The individual as apart, single, has meaning to us. It is in our cultural DNA.

Siedentop explored how cultural evolution altered the focus of identity from a patriarch to other family members who shared their own sense of identity without being separated from family. It is true that such evolution did involve conflict and acts of physical and emotional separation, as the old order gave way to the new. But that’s not the same thing as being ‘separate’ in the way we now mean. Being apart; but connected is better.

We see in nature documentaries that predatory hunters will seek to separate the vulnerable from the herd – to kill and eat. In modern terms predators will separate the vulnerable by boosting their illusion of separation – as individuals – to exploit them.

Personhood is universal

Personhood denotes sentience and intelligence expressed in a particular and coherent form via representatives of a community – as opposed to supposedly separate entities. Separation itself is an illusion. It arises only because connecting elements are shorn off, discounted, and ignored.

The clearest example is a human being. The physical appearance of separateness is countered by the psychological reality that personhood is framed and sustained by relationships and inclusion in a community. Human identity is comprised of descriptors of belonging and connection with others who are alike or similar. In indigenous communities those others included the many lives who shared country with them – physical and non-physical.

The individual in that modern sense of apartness has no identity beyond the fact of their physical presence – unless there is a nurturing connection to others. Without that there is only profound psychic distress.

The filter of organic being

Humans in this world are constructed on a physical primate foundation. But it is not all we are. The gulf of difference between primate and human is significant, and this is poorly understood. We are primate +, and it is this plus that has been so contentious in a culture dominated by materialism.

Beneath our seeming apartness as individual humans, something connects us beyond our biology. This is made evident in the research into Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Being excluded from connection with others causes psychological suffering – from which relief is sought. Restoration of connection is, of course, a clear objective. We have biological and psychological needs for connection.

But then it does not explain the need for solitude – the intentional separation and isolation from others – as the means to create a deeper connection with that + element of our humanity. We are more than we appear to be, and we are more than we know. Seeking solitude to find wholeness is a remarkable logic. Of course, the idea of actual solitude is absurd. Though we may be apart from our own kind, we are embraced by other lives. Maybe that’s the point. We need to know we belong within a manifold global community of persons, and beyond, to create a sense of spiritual connection.

Conclusion

The ideas in the Sovereign Individual were useful to me because the central premise of the book is real. The Information Age is transforming how we live in fundamental ways. But the book is flawed in its moral and philosophical model. It speaks, I believe, to the more psychopathic personality. Schwab is a counterpoint.

So much of our contemporary notion of individuality is the product of a predatory effort to separate the vulnerable from the family/group/community that should sustain and protect them. By the maintenance of an ongoing level of psychological stress a marketplace for products and services is created. These are presented as means by which relief can be secured. But they are a solution without the prospect of satisfaction. Nothing can substitute for connection and belonging – on the biological and the plus levels.

If we can reframe our individuality to be a unique particularization of humanity, we do not need any concept of separation. In fact, the idea has no meaning of value, and can only be harmful. We are particular persons who flourish in a community of like kin, and in solitude (the community of unlike kin) when we choose it. So much depends on who embrace as kin.

The genesis of our mentality is the story of the expulsion from paradise. That story has been infecting our culture for millennia. It is a story of trauma and separation. It lives on in our framing of our idea of the individual.

Separation is a denial of connection, of belonging. It is a state of harm. This is true for all beings – all persons.

We need a new genesis story.