Category Archives: Oikumene

Reflections of the Civilized World

Fight the Real Enemy – A Prophetic Encounter with Sinead O’Connor

On October 3rd, 1992 Sinead O’Connor performed a slightly revised rendition of the Bob Marley song ‘War,’ for an episode of Saturday Night Life, in which she highlighted the complicity of the Catholic hierarchy in aiding and abetting child abuse and molestation, and the further consequences that this has had on global culture.  Her performance ended with her stating, “Fight the real enemy,” while tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul II.

Thrown to the Wolves

Reports from the time show that none of the executives associated with Saturday Night Live were willing to voice support for her actions, and allowed future guests, such as Joe Pesci and Madonna, the freedom to mock and deride the message that O’Connor was trying to impart. She was even boo’ed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert held shortly after her SNL appearance, despite the fact that Dylan’s music, for his time, was filled with the same kind of detached, simple social consciousness that O’Connor was representing in her actions.

Madonna even went so far as to mention the incident during an interview with the Irish Times, saying:

“I think there is a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people…If she is against the Roman Catholic Church and she has a problem with them, I think she should talk about it.”

When O’Connor did release an open letter, she highlighted how her statement came not only from a political standpoint, but also reflected the fact that she was personally abused within the culture of neglect being obfuscated and covered up by the Catholic church. The choice of Bob Marley’s song ‘War,” was also symbolic in that, as an Irish citizen, she saw first hand how, over centuries of struggle, Irish sovereignty and culture have been ravaged by British and Catholic imperialism.  These very same issues and cultural drivers which have ravaged the Caribbean culture that spawned Marley.

O’Connor Was Right

Today we can see this incident in a different light. Since 1992 the Catholic church has been exposed as being unthinkably complicit in abuse, and no one (outside of blindly devoted Catholics) would find O’Connor’s actions as anything other than timely and poignant. In light of what has come about, those who vilified her with such arrogance appear to be not only fools, but viciously complicit themselves in supporting the power structure that allows these kind of unconscionable actions to continue.

Madonna’s ignorant support of “an image that means a lot to other people,” seems incredibly naive, if not simply stupid, when we look at what that picture actually represents.  This doesn’t even take into account the disingenuous nature of her comments considering her own use of Catholic imagery to spark controversy. Many articles from the time point out that some of her reaction was based on the fact that she was promoting her album Erotica, along with her book, Sex, and in one evening Sinead O’Connor stole the show without having to play the savage and self-debasing media game that Madonna has become so adept at.  In mocking O’Connor, some of that media attention could be pulled back to her own career, and for once, she wasn’t the one being held up as a pariah.

Continuing the Fight

With the recent publication of an open letter to Miley Cyrus, O’Connor shows that the issues she was addressing 21 years ago have yet to be put to rest. Cyrus is a protege of Madonna’s approach to the media, relying on provocation and hype to promote her career, while ignoring the fact that those making the most profit off of her work and freewheeling lifestyle have no goal outside of their own wealth and pleasures.

While serious debates were occurring over the question of military action in Syria, Cyrus’ appearance on the MTV Music Awards provided a popular distraction to the reality of what is currently happening on the global stage. Then as now, to have such figures feature so prominently in the media acts as a buffer and blind to the power players manipulating our culture, and distracts from relevant conversations that could be had if celebrities took stands like O’Connor did in the early 90′s.

Every action that she has taken to bring a serious message forward has been related by the mainstream media as “ruining her career” or “troubled,” with more focus on her hair than her message,while Madonna’s continuous self-abasement has been seen as the sign of a strong woman.  It is sad, and telling, that most folks in the United States probably remember the SNL event as “the time that bald chick ripped up a picture of the Pope,” and have no sense of how relevant it was then, and how prophetic it has been for what came after.

Same As It Ever Was

The ‘real enemy‘ that O’Connor addressed in her SNL performance is not the Pope, it is our reliance on heavily manipulated images and illusions to guide our decisions in what we think is acceptable and right in society. O’Connor’s actions called out the beast, as time has shown that all those media figures and organizations that rushed to attack her were merely aiding the protection of organized child abuse around the world. Turning the world’s terror into a cartoon, just another day in the life of mainstream media.

In drawing these issues to the fore again, O’Connor continues to speak out against the numb reaction of society to being swept away in the masturbatory whims of industry moguls, anemic executives, and political parasites who prove time and again incapable of supporting, nurturing or even considering actions that would lead us into viable cultural solutions. Perhaps, if more people step forward with O’Connor’s fiery simplicity, in another 21 years we can begin to see some desperately needed changes to how we view media, celebrity and the future of our global civilization.

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David Metcalfe is an independent researcher, writer and multimedia artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, The Revealer, the online journal of NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, and The Daily Grail. He writes regularly for Evolutionary Landscapes, Alarm Magazine, Modern Mythology, Disinfo.com, The Teeming Brain and his own blog The Eyeless Owl. His writing has been featured in The Immanence of Myth (Weaponized 2011), Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color & Music (Alarm Press, 2011) and Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness (North Atlantic/Evolver Editions 2012). Metcalfe is an Associate with Phoenix Rising Digital Academy, and is currently co-hosting The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

Educating the Potential Human – Skepticism, Psychical Research and a New Age of Reason

Seeking Harmony

After a recent investigation into the public presentation of anomalistic science (as detailed at The Teeming Brain,) it’s fairly clear to me (if it wasn’t painfully so already) that much of the information being fed into the popular consciousness is nothing more than hyped up fantasy fixed and formatted for mass mediated consumption. With Dean Radin’s new book, Supernormal, reaching the top if it’s sales categories on Amazon, and ranking high in the Nielsen ratings, there is an obvious desire for more detailed investigations of these areas that go beyond the paranormalist freak show and the skeptical sub-culture’s deflated debunking.

The binary argument of real vs. fake, of truth vs. fraud, or any such division, is merely a set up to market to one side or the other, and both proponents and defamers alike rely on each other to stoke the fires of contention so that an audience lulled by the rhythms of the work place will feel called to seek some solace in the untenable possibilities of the unknown, or the thin empowerment of a pseudo-scientific righteousness found in the knowledge that all their dreams and fears from childhood have been firmly put to bed by the cold light of rational, technological progress.

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Exploring the Implications of Sacred Geometry – A Meeting of Minds

Mind and CosmosWhat do you do with a technologically aided telepathic connection to a rat’s tail?

Odd questions like this become more relevant as developments in cybernetics and communication technology allow for strange interactions with the world around us. Without the aid of creative imagination you get a bizarre bit of cultural kitsch, delving deeper you can encounter profound questions that crack into the mystery of mind and body, and the synaptic symetry defining so much of our self perception. If you tread carefully you enter the realm of Sacred Geometry, encountering applications of mathematics and ratio that bridge the gap between material science and the more aetheral realms of human existence.

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An Open Mind – Reflections from Russell Targ

An Open Mind from Russell Lizzie on Vimeo.

“I’ve learned how to separate the psychic signal from the mental noise.” – Russell Targ

“The mind is no longer limited to the perimeters of the body.” -
Russell Targ

Russell Targ’s most recent book The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities provides an essential overview of his experiments with anomalous cognition.  As a laser physicist he worked as a Senior Staff Scientist at the Lockheed Missile and Space Company, receiving two National Aeronautics and Space- Administration awards for inventions and contributions to lasers and laser communications, but his passion for exploring the human mind put him at the center of the U.S. government’s attempt to tap psychic abilities for operational concerns.

Working with the Stanford Research Institute in the 1970′s, Targ taught 6 Army intelligence officers the Remote Viewing process and laid the ground work for the development of the U.S. Army’s psychic corp. in 1978.  In this short video, created by Lizzie Rose, he discusses his career, and reflects on the nature of what he discovered in his quest to find the limits of human potential.

(Note: Thanks to the Rhine Research Center for pointing out this video.)

Psi & the Subliminal Mind – Thoughts on an Excerpt from Sir William Barrett’s On the Threshold of the Unseen

“It is doubtless a peculiar psychical state that confers mediumistic power, but we know nothing of its nature, and we often ruin our experiments and lose our results by our ignorance. Certainly it is very probable that the psychical state of those present at a seance will be found to re-act on the medium. We should get no results if our photographic plates were exposed to the light of the room simultaneously with the luminous image formed by the lens. In every physical process we have to guard against disturbing causes.

If, for example, the late Prof. S.P. Langley, of Washington, in the delicate experiments he conducted for so many years – exploring the ultra red raditation of the sun – had allowed the thermal radiation of himself or his assistants to fall on his sensitive thermoscope, his results would have been confused and unintelligible. We know that similar confused results are obtained in psychical research, especially by those who fancy the sole function of a scientific investigator is to play the part of an amateur detective; and accordingly what they detect is merely their own incompetency to deal with problems the very elements of which they do not understand and seem incapable of learning. Investigators who, taking an exalted view of their own sagacity, enter upon this inquiry with their minds made up as to the possible or impossible, are sure to fail. Such people showuld be shunned, as their habit of thought and mode of action are inappropriate, and therefore essentially vulgar, for the essence of vulgarity is inappropriateness.

Inasmuch as we know nothing of the peculiar psychical state that constitutes mediummship, we ought to collect and record all conditions which attend a scucessful seance. Mediumship seems in some points analogous to ‘rapport’ in mesmeric trance, and it would be interesting to know whether a mesmeric sensitive is more open to mediumship than the rest of mankind. Again, are those who are good percipients in telepathic experiments also percipients in spontaneous telepathy, such as apparitions at the moment of death, and are these again hypnotic sensitives? Similar questions also arise as to somnambulists; in a word, is there anything in common between the obscure psychical states of these different classes of sensitives? Very probably there is, for all psychical phenomena, as we shall see directly, involve to a greater or less extent the operation of an unconscious part of our personality, a hidden self which in a medium emerges from its obscurity, as the normal consciousness and self-control subsides. This fact does, indeed, afford some clue to the peculiar psychological condition of mediumship.”

- from p. 120-122 of On the Threshold of the Unseen, by Sir William Barrett, F.R.S. (1917)

In researching parapsychology it has been fascinating to see how these studies have developed over 130 years of scientific scrutiny since the official founding of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882. Existing in a liminal realm of inquiry which penetrates both the center and the periphery of human experience, studying the history of investigation into exceptional human experiences provides a very potent ground for understanding the intellectual development of the past century.

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An Educator’s Commentary on Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: “The Truth of the Work of Art,” by Prof. James M. Magrini

ImageJ. Briggs and F.D. Peat (1999) describe a link between Chaos Theory and the creative act of making and remaking our world and Being in terms analogous to those encountered in the German philosophical tradition, e.g., Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and the philosophy of primordial truth and the work of art in Heidegger. Against the traditional notion of truth that comes by means of “technique, discipline, or logic,” Briggs and Peat write of a unique form of truth that manifests in moments of creative activity as “something lived in the moment and expressive of an individual’s connection to the whole” (p. 21).

This notion of truth is more primordial than any of our formal notions of truth (e.g., propositional truth) and is connected with a type of knowledge, or better, understanding that represents a “deeper authenticity and ‘truth’ about our individual experience of being in the world” (p. 20). Importantly, as related to Heidegger’s philosophy, this notion of truth, which is revelatory and ecstatic in nature, holds the potential to (1) disrupt the mechanized patterns of our rote day-to-day existence, an existence that conditions us in an inauthentic manner, and (2) awaken in us a creative “vortex,” or center, in which the processes of bifurcation and amplification open the potential for a new principle of self-organization and self-reorganization. As the authors stress, releasing ourselves to the “chaos” attunes us anew and colors our “vision” in a way that allows us to understand and discourse about our existence in a renewed manner.

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Flaxius & Asmodeus, by Charles G. Leland (1902)

From Flaxius: Leaves from the Life of an Immortal, a collection of Leland’s contemporary (for 1902) fables:

Out of mere mischief and mockery grew evil, even as Loki from playing boyish tricks became the devil. To do evil is one thing, to study and understand it is another, but in all ages men have confused the two.

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Alchemical Invocations of Vox Populi – Leland’s Aradia & the Creation of the Folk

“If the lawful order (κόσμος) hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

If ye were of the lawful order (κόσμος), the lawful order (κόσμος) would love his own: but because ye are not of the lawful order(κόσμος), but I have chosen you out of the lawful order (κόσμος), therefore the world hateth you.

Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. “

- John 15:18-21

Most reading the charming reprinting of Charles Leland’s Aradia, Gospel of the Witches easily forget how far we are from rural Italy in the 19th century,  from the world inhabited by those who remember the Ancient Ways, perhaps more telling, how far we are from the lives of the dispossessed in our own time.  Leland’s disarming erudition of Margherita Taluti’s information lulls us into gentle repose, arrested only by the sudden bursts of light when the reality of Margherita’s world sneaks through our contemporary dream.

In those days there were on earth many rich and many poor.

The rich made slaves of all the poor.

In those days were many slaves who were cruelly treated; in every palace tortures, in every castle prisons.

Many slaves escaped. They fled to the country; thus they became thieves and evil folks. Instead of sleeping by night, they plotted escape and robbed their masters, and then slew them. So they dwelt in the mountains and forest as robbers and assassins, all to avoid slavery.

An educated Western audience may find it uncouth that such things would be spoken aloud, but they aren’t spoken aloud, they are passed in secret, sub-rosa, in silence. Leland’s passion for various groups on the fringes of the society of his day, the Romany, the Native American, American Voodoo and European witches, gave him a strong sense of Romanticism for the struggles of the people, and provides him with the raw materials for an invocation of this struggle through his writing.

This is not the genteel voice of an educated Marxist lamenting capitalism, nor the hopeful philosophies of Utopian sustainability, this is Lex Talonis, justice driven by the Left Hand under the auspices of Divine Right. This is the uninhibited outcry of those who labor, live and die without ever seeing the fruits of their work, and watching daily while an uncaring elite sit in abstract control over their destinies.

During the Haitian Revolution in the late 18th century, escaped slaves met in the mountains and gathered strength while plotting to overthrow the Colonial French. During a ceremony in the northern mountains at Bois Caiman, which has since passed into a national myth, the freedom fighters called on the gods of their homeland to give them strength, protection and the vigor to overthrown their oppressors.

According to accounts of the ceremony “a woman started dancing languorously in the crowd, taken by the spirits of the loas. With a knife in her hand, she cut the throat of a pig and distributed the blood to all the participants of the meeting who swore to kill all the whites on the island.”

- History of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution

An interesting thing about Leland is that he’s writing from a place of experience. He was active during the American Civil War, both as a propagandist and journalist for the North and as a soldier, and was in Paris during the French uprising in 1848 where he participated in street fighting against the Royalist supporters.

In all of these revolutionary moments, however, we must be honest and recognize that the people do not stir on their own cognizance.  Even the Haitian revolution was spurred on by educated Haitians who invoked the power of their traditions to stir the people.  It takes someone to spark the collective consciousness, and that someone is more often than not a sympathetic member of the literati.

The tradition that Leland invokes in Aradia is an idealistic tradition of the people.  Unbound by the historical accuracy or literary criticism through the character of Margherita Taluti, who is herself unbound through the mask of Aradia, he attempts to give voice to a deeper current of thought running through the cultural narrative. Just as the African Diaspora Traditions easily slide between Christian saints and African gods, Aradia presents the picture of a living tradition that invokes the Spirits by their Signs without regard for any cultural designations.  These are not the civilized gods of Empires, but the unrefined forces of Nature herself.

Despite the hesitation of some contemporary pagans over the use of the name Lucifer in the text, the marriage of Lucifer and Diana is not necessarily an amalgam of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman traditions. In Latin Lucifer can be interpreted as “Light Bearer” an epitaph for Apollo (also called Φοίβος, Phoibos, “radiant”) who is the brother of Artemis, Artemis being another name for Diana.  With Italian being so close to Latin, it may be that the use of Lucifer actually predates the Christian tradition.

Another appellation given to Apollo is “born of the wolf”, and in pre-Hellenistic times (as Jake Stratton-Kent points out in his work Geosophia) Apollo had a definitive role in Cthonic (underworld) rites. The designation given in Aradia of Diana’s husband with “one who of old once reigned in Hell,” may be a subtle clue that it is this Cthonic Apollo, the Oracular Apollo, who is being called upon.

The Invocation to Aradia hints at this when it says, “may there be  one of three signs distinctly clear to me: the hiss of a serpent, the light of a firefly, the sound of a frog” The Serpent was sacred to Apollo, and the connection of the firefly to the “light bearer” is self evident, the frog is sacred to Hekate, a Cthonic Greek goddess who, like Diana, is connected to magical rites and nocturnal pursuits.

If this seems a bit academic for folk wisdom, it may very well be. Leland’s recounting may be every bit as free as his critics contend. In his work English Gipsy Songs he laments that none of the Romany he spoke with  could give an adequate representation of their tradition.  “Not finding what I wanted, I had given up the intention of forming such a collection, when the perusal of a few excellent Rommany ballads by a friend who may fairly claim to be among the ” deepest” of the deep in the language, as well as others by Professor Palmer and Miss Janet Tuckey, suggested to me the idea that poetry, impressed with true Gipsy spirit, and perfectly idiomatic, might be written and honestly classed as Rommany, even though not composed by dwellers in tents or caravans. The experiment was made, great care being taken to avoid anything like theatrical Gipsyism, or fanciful idealisation.”

There are many correspondences in Aradia to beliefs common to European and early American folk magic which Leland would have been familiar with through his extensive reading and passion for the “occult.” The Charm of the Stones Sacred to Diana is surprisingly similar to the seer stone used by  Josepth Smith for treasure hunting and scrying while dictating the Book of Mormon. Leland’s niece recounts that he, “not only studied witchcraft with the impersonal curiosity of the scholar, but practiced it with the zest of the initiated,” so it would not be surprising if a bit of his own practice seeped in to the reworking of Margherita’s account of Italian witchcraft.

In fact Leland, in his memoirs, tells of his own ownership of such a stone, only he calls it a “voodoo stone,” and based on the timing of the tale he tells (at the end of the Civil War) his possession of it predates by many years his time in Italy:

“Now, to-day I hold and possess the black stone of the Voodoo, the possession of which of itself makes me a grand-master and initiate or adept…”

- Memoirs, Charles Leland

Similarly the Conjuration of Diana which calls for water, wine and salt, bears resemblance to invocation techniques used by folk magicians discussed in George Oliver’s book from 1875, The Pythagorean Triangle: “It appears that in the time when conjurers could profitably exercise their art, they used to raise spirits within a circle nine feet in diameter, which they consecrated by sprinkling with a mixture of holy water, wine, and salt; that they might be protected from any onslaught of the fiend.

This combination of ingredients is found in Christian exorcism rites practiced by the Catholic church, or more pointedly rites which would have been found in the Episcopalian tradition that Leland adopted during his time at Princeton:

These four—water, wine, salt, and ashes—were the ingredients of the Exorcising Water to expel the enemy from a Church at its consecration ; the water symbolising the outpouring of tears, and so penitence ; the wine, exultation of mind ; the salt, natural discretion or wisdom; and the ashes, the humility of penitence.

- The symbolism of churches and church ornaments, Guillaume Durandus

And these three can also be equated in alchemical terms to Mercury (water), Sulphur, (wine) and Salt, which in the Paracelsian tradition are the three essential elements that form the basis of reality prior to the four elements of fire, water, earth and air. The rectification of these three also forms the basis of the Philosopher’s Stone. Leland was well acquainted with Paracelsus by the time he wrote Aradia, we find him discussing Gnosticism and NeoPlatonism at Princeton while still a student:

When (Professor Dodd) asked me how it was that I had renegaded into Trinitarianism, I replied that it was due to reflection on the perfectly obvious and usual road of the Platonic hypostases eked out with Gnosticism. I had…learned…that ” it was a religious instinct of man to begin with a Trinity, in which I was much aided by Schelling, and that there was no trace of a Trinity in the Bible, or rather the contrary, yet that it ought consistently to have been there…For man or God consists of the Monad from which developed spirit or intellect and soul; for toto enim in mundo Ivcet Trias cujus Monas est princeps, as the creed of the Rosicrucians begins (which is taken from the Zoroastrian oracles)…and it is set forth on the face of every Egyptian temple as the ball, the wings of the spirit which rusheth into all worlds, and the serpent, which is the Logos.”

- Memoirs, Charles Leland

Here we see the core of Leland’s belief, “there was no trace…yet…it ought consistently to have been there.” Aradia is a classic work of Pastoral poetry, the work of an educated Romantic who longs for the Golden Age of Nature. Through the use of vox populi he takes the unrefined elements of folk culture and, in an alchemical moment of myth building, creates what “should be there.” He separates out the dross of true poverty and seeks the essence of hunger, desperation and wisdom that exists in the lives of the dispossessed.

Leland takes what the common people already know, but have no chance to define, and  shows them a reflection of themselves. Reworking their traditions with the purpose of returning to them the freedom that they already have, while undermining the bonds of control that have been put on them by social conventions that laud ostentation while rejecting the simplicity of life.  It is therefore no surprise that Aradia has had a foundational affect on contemporary witchcraft, that was the very purpose of the book.

Margherita Taluti’s information alone could not complete his vision, but it provided the ground and reality from which he could perfect the Work. It contained the Prima Materia missing from his own experience and provided the Key. Leland’s practice is no different than Ovid, Homer, Chaucer, Boccacio, Shakespeare, or any of the great Traditional Poets who took the popular mythologies and legends of their time and re-veiled them.

As he remarked to one of his fellow folklorists, “I am proud to be a first pointer-out – just as I am of having been acknowledge to be the first discoverer of Shelta…also of Italian-Latin witch lore and mythology, which latter has not as yet been credited to me, but will be some day.

Through an alchemical invocation of the popular voice Charles Leland created a vision for the dispossessed to lay claim to. His ‘gospel of the witches‘ was the ‘good news‘ of the free spirit, the reclamation of the Edenic purity of Humanity that “shall dance, sing, make music, and then love in the darkness.”  It is the message to the establishment that “the true God the Father is not yours; for I have come to sweet away the bad, the men of evil, all will I destroy!” It’s a mark of success that Leland’s work has been reviled by the Academy, he wasn’t writing it for them, he was writing it for the People.

Note: The folks at Red Wheel/Weiser were kind enough to provide a copy of Charles Leland’s Aradia, Gospel of the Witches for research and review. Check out Bob Freeman’s review of Aradia and  Freeman Presson’s review as well.

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Digital Discussions and the Esoteric Renaissance

In 2004 the Esalen Institute Center for Theory and Research hosted it’s inaugural conference under the interesting title: Esoteric Renaissance.

The conference was organized by Wouter Hannegraff, professor History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam,  and Jeffrey Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University, and hosted some of the finest scholars from around the world working in the field of esoteric studies.

During the 1960′s Frances Yates and A. J. Festugiere began to look deeper into the history of science and Western thought, addressing areas that the academy had largely ignored. Up to that point the insurmountable evidence of alternative paradigms at the root of our culture had remained the ground for artists and specialists who were less direct in publicizing their explorations. By the late 1990′s a number of colleges and universities around the world began to offer courses in the history of esoteric movements and philosophies to support professors who took up the torch to organize these investigations with more discipline.

The Esalen conference marked a further development of this organizational interest. Jeffrey Kripal’s remarkable history of the Esalen Institute, and his work on the history of heterodox religious movements in the 20th century, shows that an undercurrent of mystical thought has moved throughout the major cultural changes of the last century. With this in mind he has organized a ground breaking series of conferences at the Esalen Institute to bring together scholars, writers, public intellectuals, artists and academics to discuss this ‘hidden’ history.

With the global economic instability formal support for these initiatives has become less forgiving, but communications technology and digital media is making these efforts even more accessible to the global community.

Jeffrey Kripal is currently working on a documentary called Authors of the Impossible which focuses on what he sees as phenomenon that exist in the liminal ground of the convergence of the subjective and the objective, of narrative and science. Along with the documentary itself he also hosts a series of podcasts that go deeper into the individual scholars and scientists featured in the documentary.

For Kripal the problem with the hardline skeptics is that they fail to appreciate the subjective power of the mystery narrative. He thinks there are better tools for investigating human potential that allow for both subjective and objective techniques to aid each other in the investigation.

Other initiatives have sprung up with the support and foresight of Esalen conference attendees. Arthur Versluis, Michigan State University and Editor of Esoterica: The Journal of Esoteric Studies, was at the commemoration of the Phoenix Rising Academy of Esoteric Sciences and Creative Arts, a digital school that is seeking to fill the gap left by the closing of many humanities departments. They are using communication technology to facilitate scholarship and discussion across the field.

Erik Davis and Mitch Horowitz, both authors and scholars who explore the esoteric influences behind pop culture, will be hosting a workshop at the Esalen Institute on the weekend of March 25-27, 2011, called The Occult in America: An Adventure in Arcane History. Both Erik and Mitch attended one of the conferences in the Esoteric Renaissance series, bringing a contemporary perspective to the role of esoterica in the cultural narrative.

Erik recently released his latest study on the intersection of culture and anomoly titled Nomad Codes. It features essays published in the Village Voice, Wired, Salon, and Slate over the last decade exploring a wide range of mythically resonant topics from the pulp horror auteur H.P. Lovecraft to Burmese transsexual nightlife.

Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation is Mitch Horowitz’, editor at Tarcher/Penguin, latest book dealing with history on the fringes and the intersection of mysticism and politics in the United States. This is not a conspiracy tome, but a serious work of popular scholarship which investigates some of the more baroque aspects of American history.

With the continued development of online networks and digital connectivity it will be interesting to see how these efforts grow and influence the emergent field of esoteric studies. Through new insights from scholars like Jeffrey Kripal, Woulter Hounegraff, Arthur Versluis, Erik Davis, Mitch Horowitz and the innovative teaching techniques of the Esalen Institute and the Phoenix Rising Academy, we are seeing a return of the academy to public discourse and a renewal of investigations that have lain dormant for quite some time.

*Resources and references are linked in the text, this article was originally posted at openmythsource.com

The Crown of Glory & the Decadence of Contemporary Conflict

“Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 

When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

- John 6:60-62

In a post on the Templar Wisdom blog regarding the treatment of captured Templars during the crusades  I came across the following observation:

Historian Karen Ralls claims that Saladin often reserved the nastiest post-battle treatment for the Templars and Hospitallers on account of their penchant for pain

I had noticed this the other day while reading Ralls’ work and it lead me to reflect on the conceptual barriers we encounter in seeking to understand traditional warfare. We see through eyes darkened by our present leaders and conflicts, and never guess that there could be more to the art of war than the debased sadism and chaos that we see today.

This is not to whitewash the terror of war in any age, nor to support some idealized vision of conflict. The important point to realize is that there are different perspectives that can be taken, different understandings that can help to mitigate the horror and move towards a greater understanding of peace.

In the Islamic Tradition Martyrdom is considered a gift which immediately negates all past sins, this is the same in the Christian Tradition where the “Crown of Martyrdom” or “Crown of Glory” is seen as the assurance of faith. It is an aspect of the Mystery of sacrifice, and despite what fundamentalists think today, is not an active pursuit, but something made necessary in particular situations, such as times of war or oppression.

It  should not be taken in the sense of suicide bombers who take the lives of others, or any other forms of outward violence. Martyrdom is an inward process, and a last resort. In the traditional depictions of martyrs they are faced with a situation from which there is no escape other than an affirmation of faith and an acceptance of their fate. It is the ultimate seal of patience with the horror of a world that has lost it’s central guide post.

For I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” – (Galatians 6:17)

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” – (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

“”Which one of the Prophets did your fathers not persecute, and they killed the ones who prophesied the coming of the Just One, of whom now, too, you have become betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52)

And most specifically in the figure of Stephen, the first Martyr, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) where Martyrdom is equated with the Transfiguration.

Within this mirrored tradition  Saladin was in part honoring the Templars by making them Martyrs.

Friends on that day will be foes one to another, save those who kept their duty,” Quran Surah 43:67

On no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear: before Us is a record which clearly shows the truth: they will never be wronged.” Quran Surah 23:62

These verses from the Quran form a counter point to the writings of the Apostles:

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? ” 1 Peter 4:13-17

Which then leads back to the Quran:

And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way.” Quran Surah 43:61

In our contemporary understanding we have a difficult time coming to terms with this relationship to G-d, however Muhammad had nothing but praise for Jesus and the Quran is fairly explicit about the validity of his Spirit.  Stories about Saladin and Richard Coeur d’Leon outline the mutual respect that was shown between these leaders during the 3rd Crusade. This is the same level of respect Saladin was showing the Templars when he gave the the highest honor he could to those who took up arms for their faith. The brutal realities of the situation should not be forgotten, however the cultural narrative in which the events took place is important for understanding the actions.

Richard Coer d’Leon’s historical track record is not necessarily as honorable as the stories told about him,  and it is important to distinguish between the possibilities pointed to in folklore, story and myth, and the reality of war. There is, however, a sense that something has changed, today the possibility for this kind of mutual respect is greatly mitigated by the use of contemporary technology, theory and techniques.

The traditions of Chivalry in Islam and Christianity are nearly identical. Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh gives  a helpful outline of Islamic Chivalry, which shows the similarities, and parallels to, the development of this Tradition in the West:

Before Islam appeared, the tradition of chivalry (javanmardi) in the Middle East was maintained through the training of men to be chevaliers (javanmardan).

The tradition of chivalry involved consideration for others (morowwat), self-sacrifice (ithar), devotion (fada-kari), the helping of the unfortunate and unprotected, kindness towards all created beings, keeping one’s word and self-effacement – all qualities that were later to emerge as the noble attributes of the perfect human being from the point of view of Sufism.

In addition to these attributes of a true human being, the chevaliers were committed to a particular code of etiquette and conventions, from which the main objective and principles of chivalry or javanmardi were derived.

With the appearance of Islam, these chevaliers embraced the religion of Islam while retaining the conventions of chivalry, thereby founding the creed of Sufism on the basis of both Islam and chivalry. Thus, the etiquette of the chevaliers became part of the practice of the khaniqah and of the Sufis.

Gradually, as the philosophy of the Unity of Being (wahdato’l-wojud) and divine love were made more profound and appealing by Sufi masters, the tradition of chivalry, hand-in-hand with it, gained an extraordinary influence and currency. The spirit of Sufism consisted of focusing one’s gaze in one direction (towards God) through the power of love, and its method was to cultivate a humane code of ethics, which was equated with that of the chevaliers.

In Hinduism we can see this in the Kshatriya, or ‘warrior caste’. The Bhagavad Gita gives a succinct description of this Tradition:

Arjuna told Krishna, “Take us out between the armies.”

Krishna positioned the chariot halfway between the armies, and stopped. It was quieter there; both armies were distant; Arjuna looked out.

“I see my brothers there, my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends.”

He swung around.

“And there also, there are my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends. They are all my brothers, Krishna. It cannot be lawful to kill them. I cannot kill them. I will have no part of this action.”

Krishna answered. “There can be no blame for law-minded action, if you act with the proper dispassionate attitude. You must do the right thing, and be heedless of consequence.”

Arjuna said, “Krishna, all those people are going to die. I will not be responsible for their deaths.”

“Quite right,” said Krishna.

“What do you mean?”

Krishna explained. “We act as instruments of dharma. Everybody on this field today is working out karmic dramas that extend back through lifetimes upon lifetimes. You and I, my best true friend, have been preparing for this battle for hundreds of lifetimes. I remember every one of them. You don’t.”

Arjuna studied his friend.

“Krishna, who are you?”

And there was a flash of light, bright as a thousand suns, and Arjuna saw Krishna’s cosmic form as Narayana, one of the great gods. There, all at once, were all of the planets and all of the stars and all of the gods and all of the demons and spirits, gandarvhas and apsaras, all of the sages and saints, all of the priests and warriors, all that is and all that ever was and all that will be. Arjuna saw, and felt, endless perfect love swelling to fill the everything that Krishna had become. And he saw all the gory deeds that were ever done and the carnage that must come with time; he saw Krishna tall as mountains, black as night, his eyes blazing as he waded through rivers of blood, the mangled corpses of Duryodhana and his brothers dangling from his bloody jaws.

“Krishna, stop!” Arjuna fell to the chariot floor, his head in his hands. “Be just my friend again.”

“But you see how it is, Arjuna,” said Krishna, as he helped his friend up. “You cannot kill them, because they are dead already; their own actions have doomed them. You cannot be responsible for their deaths, because each one is responsible for his own death. In each lifetime, each one does what he has to do, and if he does it selflessly, in love of me, without regard for gain or loss, he may come finally to rest in my perfection and be free of the cycles of action and death.

So was it maliciousness on Saladin’s part that lead him to treat the Templars as he did? Or rather respect and full faith in the Divine Will outside of any temporal appearances? In exploring the second possibility there is no need for a justification of violence.  These same Traditions speak more highly of Peace than they do of war, and it would be foolish to use specific examples to put what has been taught out of necessity above what is longed for by any rational person.

These Traditions only hold true for those living within their narrative, and none of the leaders in today’s conflicts show even the slightest hint of this being the case. We are lead to mistake the contemporary secular and sectarian organizations that have assumed the outward trappings of religion for a true tradition.

Remember that John of the Cross, Francis of Assisi, and Therese of Avila were all persecuted for “excessive piety” by secular factions within the Church hierarchy.  Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, known as Shaikh al-Ishraq (Master of Illumination) and  Shaikh al-Maqtul (Murdered Sheikh), was Martyred by Saladin’s son when he took over his fathers place.  Al-Hallaj was Martyred by Fundamentalists for the same crime as Jesus the Nazarene.

To view the Church or religion as a unity in it’s physical manifestation is to miss that the only Unity that exists is in G-d, thus Muhammed can speak in praise of the “People of the Book” and Buddhism can speak of “hidden buddhas” and “buddhas of all times and places” and Prophets in Judaism can say that the people of G-d will be taught by a stranger.

Islam means “submission” and Muslim “one who submits”, Catholic means “universal”, it’s only when we start taking secular authority and secular organizations for the truth that divisions arise due to sectarian beliefs that are inconsequential to the teachings of any Tradition. Pythagoras, Diogenes of Sinope, Aristotle, Plato, Avicennia, etc. were all accepted by Orthodox authorities within the Christian Tradition. Similarly Islamic Tradition affords the utmost respect to all people of Faith. Whether this is carried through by the fundamentalist secular organizations that assume wearing a cross or a star and crescent give them authority over the Faithful has no bearing on the reality that these Traditions speak of.

If these Traditions do not justify today’s conflict, they serve as a heavy critique for the inhuman, technologically driven, and calculated massacres that are sanctioned by the world’s leaders. These are not battles with the possibility for redemption, these are a vile continuation of the same debased logic that lead to the tragedies perpetuated in every conflict since the first World War.  The mechanical horrors of mustard gas, aerial bombings and automatic weapons have progressed to the point where we have adopted their logic into our own concept of warfare and at the end of that road lies only a cold metal abyss.

Fiat pax in virtute tua: et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Propter fratres meos et proximos meos, loquebar pacem de te:
Propter domum Domini Dei nostri, quaesivi bona tibi.
Rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem: et abundantia diligentibus te. (Ps.121.)
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost,as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen