Sunday, January 19, 2020

Snatches of the Everlasting Gospel 3

The Albigensian communities of southern France were exterminated by armies of Crusaders. But individual Cathars manage to escape from Provençe and to carry their Bogomilism to every part of Europe. Apparently less sectarian than many earlier or later radicals, the Manichean Cathars form friendships and in time merge with Humiliati, Waldensians, Joachites, Brethren of the Free Spirit and others with whom they share the distinction of being hunted by the Inquisition. They do not merge with Franciscans, recognizing these pseudo-resisters as kin to the Inquisitorial Dominican police...
The radicals are numerous, many are highly imaginative, their inspiration comes from distant places and times, and they stimulate each other to rethink their commitments and start all over again. They are as varied as human beings can be. They nevertheless share some large commitments, and it is these commitments that make them anathema to ecclesiastical and lay authorities.
The radicals are explicitly committed to freedom and to community. The very names they give their informal groupings, names like Brethren of the Free Spirit, announce both of these commitments. -- Against His-story, Against Leviathan!, Fredy Perlman 

Joseph Campbell in Creative Mythology points out that in the 11th and 12th centuries there was a resurgence in the veneration for Love and Beauty across the Eurasian landmass. This ranged from Japanese Buddhist courtly love depicted in Lady Murasaki's writing, to Taoist inner physiological teachings in China, to Tantra and other Bhakti cults in India, to hymns of praise for the Beloved in Sufism, to formulations of the Shekinah in the Kabbalah, and to the troubadour movement and the cult of the Dame in Provence.

Alongside and somewhat in coordination with these groups in Southern France were the much more established Cathars or Albigensians, representing a true parallel or counter-Church in Europe. The Cathars are usually regarded as a form of gnostic-dualist Manicheanism, their roots extending back to the Bogomils and to earlier Gnostic sects of southeastern Europe and the Near East.

However, certain researchers -- like Gabriele Rossetti on the Left and Ezra Pound on the Right -- have speculated that the Cathars were a radical and functioning survival of the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Albigensianism, the argument goes, the esoteric and erotic fertility rites were perpetuated in Western Europe.

In any case, the Cathars posed an existential threat to the official Church's claim of universalism. Accordingly, they were nearly all exterminated in the 1209 to 1229 crusade against them. The anarchist anti-historian Fredy Perlman picks up the thread here precisely where it was dropped by the sanctioned narrative. Many individual Cathars escaped these bloody assaults and formed alliances with other, even more radical, heretical and dissenting groups of that time. Of these one of the most revolutionary groups was the Brethren of the Free Spirit.

Life Immediately Present

Viewed as historical documents, they establish beyond all doubt that the ‘Free Spirit’ really was exactly what it was said to be: a system of self-exaltation often amounting to self-deification; a pursuit of a total emancipation which in practice could result in antinomianism and particularly in anarchic eroticism; often also a revolutionary social doctrine which denounced the institution of private property and aimed at its abolition. -- The Pursuit of the Millennium, Norman Cohn

Academic historian Norman Cohn is no fan of the medieval antinomian and communist groups that he writes about, and Perlman calls him reactionary in his politics. But his distaste seems to keep his depiction of them non-romanticized. The affirmation of "total emancipation" was real. Their doctrine was virtually Tantric, although of an entirely divergent point of origin.

The heresy was as such: As Christ had come and died and rose again for the sake of all humanity, then all sins -- past, present and future -- were forever forgiven and the Fall was reversed without a trace. All of nature was redeemed by the Incarnation. The body was no longer blemished, to be held in scorn, but to be celebrated as being holy along with all of its desires. All authorities, all laws, all bounds had been overthrown. Heaven had once again descended to Earth.

The secular and ecclesiastical centres of control were illegitimate, therefore, having lost all divine justification for their rule. They could be dismissed and ignored and resisted at every turn. The Free Spirits had reentered the Garden, had been restored to sinless innocence, and had become like gods -- partakers of both the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. There was no need to abolish God -- the misguided aim of later revolutionaries -- because they, and all of Nature, were eternally at one with God.

Like the Tantrics and revolutionary Taoists, such as the Yellow Turbans and subsequent Taoist-inspired peasant revolts, the Free Spirits were not exactly anti-materialists -- Matter was not dead and fallen but instead was blessed and spiritual. The wholly Transcendent had become wholly Immanent. Christ had already wed Heaven and Earth. The Brethren of the Free Spirit were merely those who had realized these things first and fully. It continues to be the most radical heresy or revolutionary doctrine imaginable. The former Situationist Raoul Vaneigem also celebrated these ideas:

All the supporters of the movement of the Free Spirit insisted that life meant life immediately present. There was no hell, no resurrection, no Last Judgment, no divine overseer, no secular power. They were not interested in religious, philosophical or political quarrels; social confrontation interested them only when it opened the door to absolute emancipation. Realizing that God had been created in the image of their alienation, they abandoned the great external, productive subject, whose spirit signified servitude and tyranny, and made themselves earthly gods in the ceaseless flux of a universal attraction they called love. To pass, through love, from the frustrated nature of desire to the untrammeled freedom of re-created nature -- this was the project they shaped during those centuries shut off from the progress of history. -- The Movement of the Free Spirit, Raoul Vaneigem

They "made themselves earthly gods in the ceaseless flux of a universal attraction they called love." And in this they carried forward a great idea that can be traced back through the more liberated of the Christian mystics to the Neoplatonists and their commentaries and meditations upon the doctrines of divine Eros found in the Phaedras and the Symposium. These doctrines are reflected in Gnosticism and earliest Christianity, doctrines which are truly archaic and even Paleolithic in origin -- from the cosmic/chaotic Mother and her consort/son Love.


And stretching forward in history, the Brethren of the Free Spirit and contemporary heretical groups, as Vaneigem and others have traced, went on to engender and inspire anti-authoritarian Reformation sects like the neo-Adamites and the Moravians, the esoterically-focused Rosicrucians, the more radical of the English revolutionaries like the Diggers and the Ranters -- who explicitly named their antinomian beliefs "the Everlasting Gospel" -- and the socially radical Freemasonic fraternities at the time of the American and French revolutions. Yet all of these groups were conscious of a deeper tradition, one that inspired visions of total liberation.

However bizarre it may appear to later revolutionaries and historians alike, this Pythagorean passion seriously influenced the organizational activities of the first revolutionaries. We have seen how the Illuminists made the first halting efforts systematically to use the forms of occult Masonry for ulterior conspiracy -- pointing the way to Bonneville, Buonarroti, and the early professional revolutionaries. But the wild profusion of exotic symbols and higher orders also fed a much broader and more open impulse: the search for simple forms of nature to serve as a touchstone for truth amidst the crumbling authority of  tradition. -- Fire in the Minds of Men, James H. Billington

The word "Illuminists" instantly rings warning bells in the brains of millions in these addled and ignorant days, but in fact the Illuminati were extreme foes of the Church and the monarchies that had kept the population of Europe in feudal enslavement for centuries. Whatever excesses they were involved in, to be condemned in themselves, they were at least on the right track.

Yet in contrast to the established authorities of tradition that they and other revolutionary groups of the that period opposed, they affirmed and identified with an underground tradition, nicknamed the Everlasting Gospel here, which they tracked at least as far back as the communal and anti-tyrannical Pythagorean and Orphic brotherhoods. As they toiled to further crumble the existing oppressive traditions, they sought to replace these with the oldest revolutionary faith.

As the devaluation of all values continued apace, however, the authorities did something cunning and diabolical. Knowing that their long stretch of duping the population through strictly regimented orthodox Christianity and feudalism was fracturing, they formed alliances and eventually fused with emergent bourgeois capitalism and its associated ideology of scientific materialism.

It was far better for these authorities to have God removed entirely from the world, to de-animate or de-soul the Earth, than to allow for the spread of an entirely immanental Free Spirit-style affirmation of a decentralized yet universal "Church" of pagan-Christian animistic pantheism.

The real Renaissance, in this regard, ended symbolically in 1600 with the burning at the stake of arch-heretic Giordano Bruno in Rome. Soon after this execution came the devastating Thirty Years War and the expansion of the brutal Counter-Reformation and Inquisition (with equivalent established Protestant institutions), and the subsequent rise of the modern State, capitalism and scientific materialism.

The revolutionary groups of the next two centuries, although still partially aware of their deeper roots, were already becoming watered down through Deism and afterwards atheism. The so-called "Enlightenment" can be seen in one sense as a social and spiritual reaction to the resurgent Hermeticism of the Renaissance.

Jesus I. Christ

Certain visionaries of this later period, inspired by the political and social revolutions of America and France, resisted this turn to Deism and "Natural Religion." The most notable of these was the English poet and artist, William Blake, a direct inheritor and re-activator of the Everlasting Gospel, writing explicitly about the old tradition.

If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic character the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, & stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again. -- “There Is No Natural Religion,” William Blake

The "same dull round" potentially means several things for Blake here. In its most basic sense it means the quotidian dose of largely senseless toil and exertion that most of us, under present economic and social conditions, suffer perpetually. This includes the non-stop alienation of commuting, working, consuming and worrying about the financial well-being of ourselves and those we love. The serfdom of the daily grind, in other words, is still as soul-deadening for us as it was for Blake and his contemporaries.

In a deeper sense, though, it refers to the "natural religion" of rational philosophy and materialist science. It is Blake who best articulated in poetry and prose and in the visual arts how the so-called "Enlightenment" and its legacy was really a Disenchantment; how "single vision and Newton's sleep" had devalued the senses, debased the body and its desires, transformed nature herself  into a endless grey and smoky series of  "Satanic mills," and in particular had suppressed and strangled the Imagination, which before had provided a spiraling staircase to the gods.

Henceforth only rationality and the experimental method of mechanistic science, presided over by a new yet equally exclusive priesthood of scientists and technicians, would be accepted as providing an effective path to Truth. "Art" became mere entertainment, even in its most "radical" form now only reflecting the nihilism of its culture, no longer a means of transcendence in immanence.

Blake attempted to break out of this prison of  "the ratio of all things" by creating his own mythology, in conscious continuance of Gnostic and Hermetic myth, and succeeded in keeping the light of the Everlasting Gospel from being extinguished in the 19th century, allowing it to keep burning in the 20th century and beyond.

But the same dull round also refers to the cycle of revolution, which Blake came to call the "Orc" cycle. Orc is the young and fiery spirit of revolution who nonetheless, as he grows older and more established, hardens his revolt into a new oppressive authority. Inescapably he transforms into his arch-nemesis, Urizen. This is what Blake, a friend of the revolutionary Thomas Paine and an associate with the anarchist writer William Godwin and his early feminist wife Mary Wollstonecraft, witnessed happening during the course of the American and French revolutions.

The same deadly and soul-smothering Order just returns again and again, usually in an even more violent and insufferable form. The Orc cycle provides the clockwork mechanism for the entire nightmare of history, entirely in lockstep with "natural religion." King and priest, the Archons of Space and Time, are merely reproduced under different titles and dress. To cut through this cycle or round, however, something far deeper needs to occur. Revolution is not sufficient, it must lead to Revelation. Each revolt must provoke a revealing. But a revealing of what?

All laws must be overthrown, without and within. The extermination of the national tyrants of this world is incomplete unless the shackles which bind our own imagination are shattered. For Blake, a very conscious torch bearer of the Everlasting Gospel (a term which critic A.L. Morton explains Blake consciously adopted from the communist radicals of the English Revolution, who in turn took it from the Bible), it is through Christ alone that this may be accomplished.

Blake calls Christ, "Jesus the Imagination" and in his poem "The Everlasting Gospel" he writes that the highest teaching available is the personal forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus the Imagination, always fully present within our own imagination, we are able to both forgive others and to be forgiven. All codes, restrictions, hierarchies are, through this, split right through. They are negated, circumvented, ignored and the forgiving power of the Source attained directly.

In this way, Blake is overtly invoking the Third Age of the Holy Spirit, pronounced by Joachim of Fiore, in which Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection has already liberated the entire world from Sin and Death so that all existing authorities have been made obsolete. As we have seen, this is also the central belief of the Brethren of the Free Spirit and their successors. Blake carries this medieval antinomian heresy forward, a heresy which becomes central to the Romantic era.

And ultimately this heresy also implies that ending the "same dull round" can be equated with liberation from saṃsāra, the cosmic wheel of birth and rebirth, an Indian doctrine which Blake might have had some familiarity with. Though as in Mahayana Buddhism, where the final realization is that saṃsāra is nirvāṇa, Blake also held that the radical and imaginative alteration of perception is the key to the realization that this world, with its endless beauty and mystery, is already Paradise.

 The Pewless Church of Poetry

From Valentinus through the German Romantic poet Novalis, the French Romantic Nerval, and the English William Blake, Gnosticism has been indistinguishable from imaginative genius. I venture, after a lifetime’s meditation upon Gnosticism, the judgment that it is pragmatically the religion of literature. There are, of course, nonheretical Christian poets of genius, from John Donne through Gerard Manley Hopkins on to the neo-Christian T.S. Eliot. And yet the most ambitious poets in the Romantic Western tradition, those who have made a religion of their own poetry, have been Gnostics, Shelley and Victor Hugo on to William Butler Yeats and Rainer Maria Rilke. -- Genius, Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom -- another imperfect messenger; Hermes Quicksilver may take on any semblance or guise -- extends the line further ahead to Blake-inspired Romantic writers to the Modernists and beyond. Gnosticism is the secret religion of literature.

There is of course no formal Gnostic religion. Even during its heyday in the Hellenic period there existed dozens of, at times, rival Gnostic sects but no single all-encompassing Church. The rites and doctrines of these sects differed from one another, but a defining similarity was the application of essentially Platonic/Neoplatonic philosophy to Jewish, Christian and creative-syncretic mythologies.

"Gnosticism" has come to represent a spiritual ideology which is dualistic at core, one that reveres the purity of the Spirit and reviles the body, the Earth and the realm of Matter in general, to the extreme that the Creator God of this material universe is denied and denounced as a cosmic tyrant. Likewise, for the Gnostics, the authorities of the Church and State, deriving their power from this false God, were rejected as being illegitimate and worthy of derision. The Gnostics were the original an-Archon-ists, anarchists. "No gods, no masters" was their slogan long before it was anyone else's.

But "Gnosticism," in its entirety, was not in fact a simple dualism. Certain Gnostic sects, resembling  the later Free Spirits, believed that the sparks of the True God were to be found in this world, and especially within the hearts of human individuals.

Accordingly, certain sects like the Orphites and Phibionites celebrated the senses and practiced a free eroticism. They were Gnostic in the most appropriate sense of possessing or seeking to possess gnosis, an intuitive and direct apprehension of Godhead, either as individuals or in small groups and in defiance of any priestly mediation.

The authors mentioned by Bloom, and there are many, many others that might have been included, are "Gnostics" in exactly this sense. They may have been directly influenced by elements of the original Gnostic doctrines, as Blake certainly was, but they belonged to no formal Gnostic "Church," and adhered to no defined dogma. They are Gnostics because they experienced, or at least sought the experience of, gnosis. Once again this meshes entirely with the Everlasting Gospel.

At this stage in the present essay, this "tradition" might appear to be so diffuse that it has ceased to have much use as a political concept, if it ever did. The figures that Bloom mentions could be placed, alternately, on the Left or the Right of the political spectrum. Yeats, for example, would be rejected in total by the Left. This is unfortunate. Yeats's politics are without a doubt unsavory, but the sparks of gnosis can be discovered throughout his work. And to find these sparks, to release them and to add to their brightness, is a revolutionary strategy of Everlasting Gospel.

Why should the fascists get Yeats? Why should they get Jung or D.H. Lawrence or Nietzsche?
Instead of rejecting certain authors and artists completely because they hold reactionary values, why not adopt a strategy of revolutionary deconstruction, one that liberates the sparks, streams and shamanic traces that channel as far back as the original "primitive" communism of the Paleolithic.

In other words, act to eliminate the dross of priestly obfuscation, bogus rites and dogmas, patriarchal domination, bigotry and class division that has, over centuries of State rule, encrusted itself on our tradition. The Everlasting Gospel was always, and continues to be, ecological, feminist, anti-authoritarian, antinomian, communist.

But the great misfortune is that this cannot be simply said without the inclusion of yet another "disclaimer." It should go without saying that this tradition is not represented by either the current nationalist or the current globalist ruling-class ideologies. Nonetheless, all of the adjectives above have been twisted against us. Though we might attempt a rectification of names.

"Ecological" means merely to be in dynamic balance with the other creatures of this planet and with the planet itself, not an advocacy of Agenda 21 nor Agenda 2030 nor Agenda 2061, no matter how paranoid and divisive these are designed to make us. "Feminist" means promoting an equal partnership between all sexes and genders, not a female version of the patriarchy. "Communist," again, means a stateless and classless society, not the gulag nor an extreme authoritarian capitalism overseen by a so-called Communist Party.

It's Good Enough For Me

According to the research of French anthropologist, Pierre Clastres, tribal societies, far from being innocent "noble savages" -- free from even the notion of a centralized State -- function in continual and even structural resistance to the formation of a State. They are in resistance to the privileging, to the monopolization of violence, of an elite group within their societies over the rest of their members.

This they were able to accomplish and sustain for millennia because these societies actively broke up any accumulation of power, be it wielded by the chiefs, or the shamans, or the strongest hunters, etc. At all times the emphasis was on the need to release trapped flows, build-ups of mana and wealth of all kinds. The States of the ancient world that did form and persist, therefore, were in those societies that for various reasons anti-authoritarian vigilance had lapsed.

A similar type of resistance, however, can be waged at this moment within the arts. Once again, the sparks of the Everlasting Gospel can be liberated. Ezra Pound provides a good example. Pound's anti-Semitic, pro-fascist, pro-Nazi Rome radio broadcasts during WW2 are abhorrent and disgusting, and the whole of Pound's ouvre should be scoured and scrutinized to determine just where the rot set in. But to throw away Pound entirely, to leave him to Italian neo-fascists and U.S. alt-right followers of Eustace Mullins, is a huge mistake.

Pound, all throughout his career and even in the darkest and most fetid craters within it, had a profound sense of the archaic tradition which he called Eleusis. This shines and rings out beautifully in much of his work, and subsequent generations of poets -- many members of which were/are firmly on the Left -- sensed this in Pound's writing. The best of Pound can be liberated from Pound. And so with all artists. 

Literature, and in the arts in general but especially within poetry, harbours one of the last remaining pockets of archaic animism. In poetry, in its opposition to modern utilitarianism and reductionism, each verse is still charged with meaning, is still conscious of the fact that every word emanates from a god, that etymology tells and retells the story of theogony.

In poetry the old correspondences between language, animals, plants, mountains, rivers, winds, stars, seasons, stages of life, elemental spirits, demons and gods retain their potency within an open web of metaphoric circulation. Within it the primal systems of correspondence and magic are reanimated and reactivated through verbal rhythms, symbols and images.

The Book of Orpheus adds on to itself slowly, almost imperceptibly, word by word, verse by verse. And it is these few words that shine, their sap running back through roots and rhizomes down into the deepest and blackest and most fertile loam of the Earth, that are solely meaningful. The life of the author, and his or her whole body of work, may be nearly irrelevant in comparison to a single image or metaphor, somehow providing a conduit for that which resounds both in the furthest depths and in the outermost spheres.

By these words or Word, Spirit and Matter -- dynamically conjoined within primitive communism -- are reunified once again. The visionary goal of all religions, although actively outlawed by the dominant priesthoods, is already accomplished, yet most do not "read" with the hope or even the awareness of finding it.

Through these flashes of recognition all ecclesiastical and secular hierarchies are bypassed and we are instantly transported back inside our own bodies to the dawn of the world and the mind. Reason may eventually take us, by a gradual and winding course, to the summit and threshold of the Earthly Paradise, but only through faith, synonymous with the imagination, can we be rocketed to the stars.

This imaginary Book of Orpheus acts as an unofficial Bible of the panoriginal religion of the Earth, a "faith" that is tribal and decentralized but also fully universal. And this religion was once present within every ethnic grouping across the planet, from Japanese pre-imperial Ko-Shintō to Siberian shamanism to Old European heathenism to the "primitive" and psychedelic animism of Africa and indigenous Australia and Amazonia.

All things are full of gods; and one feminine creative/procreative principle pervades throughout all of internal and external nature, a foundationless foundation that can be expressed by no fundamentalism. Words are no slaves to their "definitions." Verse is never truly sentenced to any fixed grammar. Neither is this the infamous One World Religion of active post-Bircher paranoia and paralysis. No control centre is possible within this jungle of spirits. It is by nature, as nature, uncontrollable and free.

Yet what does any of this have to do with revolutionary praxis in a "concrete" sense? Why waste our time on mystical or poetic tradition at all instead of the "realistic" goal of social revolution? Once more, following Blake, revolution in order to be fully successful must become revelation.

This tradition, when entirely shorn of its priestly accretions, exemplifies the radical values of liberty, equality, fraternity, sharing, the holding of all possessions in common, in fact the expansion or re-appropriation of the commons to include the entire cosmos. The creative imagination within this tradition is identical to solidarity, to compassion, to love.

And while within technocratic capitalism, here in agreement with its orthodox Marxist critics, imaginative vision is either banned or marginalized or profitably exploited, for the Everlasting Gospel it becomes both democratized and all important. The generation of meaning becomes liberated and this, in turn, is the first and crucial step towards social revolution.

The realm of Matter [and I should add, much of our dreaming as well] is saturated and overrun by Capital. The primitive/post-historical anarchist communist guerillas stage their attacks of sabotage, subversion and liberation from the one great remaining inexplicable wilderness of the Imagination. 

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Snatches of the Everlasting Gospel 2

And we may add that the Pseudo-Dionysius, whose works were the source of mediaeval Christiam mysticism, and were held in greatest reverence by Thomas Aquinas, Tauler and Meister Eckhart, were copied from the order of the divine hierarchies as set forth by Plotinus, Jamblichus, and Proclus, who all, through Plato and Pythagoras, based themselves on Orpheus. -- Orpheus, G.R.S. Mead


Verses of the Book

Mead, once head of the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society and the personal secretary of Madame Blavatsky, traces out here a central strand of the Everlasting Gospel. Esoteric or visionary influences stream from Orpheus to Pythagoras and Plato, to the so-called Neoplatonic philosophers including Plotinus, Iamblichus and Proclus, and directly to the Christian mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite down to Meister Eckhart and his followers.

While some of these figures have been accepted by orthodox Christianity and the ecclesiastical and secular authorities, all of these visionaries have inspired more radical and counter-establishment movements as well. This points to a certain ambiguity within the Everlasting Gospel.

The Orphic or Hermetic philosophy which underlies and informs much of this tradition, is also often co-opted and utilized by dominant priesthoods for the purpose of perpetuating and expanding State control. This philosophy is employed by the ruling hierarchy simply because it works.

It's generally a mistake to assume a division between Christian orthodoxy, or the Roman imperial cult which directly preceded it -- the line of pontiffs or high priests stretching well back into pagan antiquity -- and occult heresy. Instead, the real split is between a kind of elite Hermeticism and a democratic or even anarchic Hermeticism. The basic principles are shared, but the elite position is to prevent the masses from obtaining this wisdom, and then using the elites' own monopoly of knowledge as a means of control.

Yet democratic or anarchic groups much more embody the Hermetic principles of the centre being everywhere and all souls being equally cherished by Godhead. The religious orthodoxy imposed by sanctioned priesthoods, the latter always an essential plank of the apparatus of the State, is merely watered-down exoteric fare for the flock.

Initiatory lineages with secret rites and lore, carried on orally from master to disciple, can also be viewed as consisting of a part of the wider revolutionary tradition, with teachings and practices kept hidden to avoid suppression. Although what Diodorus wrote about the Eleusinian Mysteries should always be kept in mind; they made secret what was performed in the open and for all in the rites of Minoan Crete. The "mysteries" did not always require secrecy and exclusivity.

Minoan Crete, in fact, is a key link between the earlier Neolithic and Paleolithic Goddess worshiping cultures and the later mysteries of the ancient world. Crete was one of the last cohesive partnership societies in the Mediterranean region. Minoan Crete inherited the universal Goddess religion of the archaic world, revolving around the mythology of the Mother Goddess and her son/consort.

In Crete and Greece the myth of Dionysus echoed the story of Osiris/Horus and Isis in Egypt, Tammuz in Mesopotamia, Shiva and the Earth Goddess in India, and eventually Madonna and the Christ. The story of Orpheus, the son of the Muse Calliope and first poet, becomes central to the Orphic cult which scholars agree was a kind of reformed Dionysianism, Orpheus possessing elements of both Dionysus and Apollo.

As Mead points out above, Orpheus, once more representing the consort/son of the Goddess, becomes the inspiration for all subsequent poetry and philosophy. Orphic fraternities valued contemplation over worldly riches and pursuits and held all goods in common. Orpheus appears as either the teacher or the student of Hermes Trismegistus in later esoteric genealogies, but the teachings attributed to the mythical sage certainly went on to greatly influence the philosophies of Pythagoras and Plato.

The Orphic, Pythagorean and even Christian mystical traditions are all fundamentally subversive as they teach that individuals, living the Good Life and studying and practicing together, can entirely bypass and even shun the sanctioned priesthoods and seek out and find divine inspiration without authorized "spiritual" mediation.

Orpheus, as the first poet, is also a key figure of inspiration for the Western literary tradition. The French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé held that all inspired literature made up a vast and timeless "Book of Orpheus," to which every truly creative writer contributes perhaps a few verses or lines.

We should keep in mind here, however, that what is being called the Everlasting Gospel, despite the Biblical origin of its name, is not exclusively a Christian or even a Western tradition. The philosopher Algis Uždavinys  points out, for instance, that while Plato can be called the father of Western philosophy, he is also the forebearer of Eastern-Byzantine and Islamic philosophy, and through these he indirectly helped to spawn other schools of thought further to the East. And Plato, as the sage himself humbly and reverently admitted, was merely a conduit for much older sources of wisdom. 

The gospel is universal as well as everlasting, comprising of and celebrating the marriage or hierogamy of Matter and Spirit across the Earth at all of its changing phases, and steadfast in spite of the constant pressure of priestly co-option and State suppression.

Jes Grewn

The VooDoo tradition instructs that Moses learned the secrets of VooDoo from Jethro and taught them to his followers. H.P. Blavatsky concurs: “The fraternity of Free Masons was founded in Egypt and Moses communicated the secret teaching to the Israelites, Jesus to the Apostles and thence it found its way to the Knights Templar.”

... We learned what we always suspected, that the Masonic mysteries were of a Blacker origin than we thought and that this man [a Knights Templar Grand Master in 1890] had in his possession a Black sacred Book and how they were worried that we would find out and wouldn’t learn that the reason they wanted us out of the mysteries was because they were our mysteries! -- Mumbo Jumbo

Ismael Reed reminds us of another dimension of the Everlasting Gospel and its mysteries, which he terms "Jes Grew" in his incredible novel. Not only does its roots extend further back than the triumph of patriarchy, but likewise it precedes by centuries the white monopolization of the secret rites; both patriarchy and whiteness being key elements of Evola's bogus "Northern Light." The true tradition has always been open to all.

As Uždavinys explains, the principal Neoplatonic sages -- Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus, etc. -- were natives of Egypt, the Near East and Anatolia, and certainly not "European" in ancestry and or in the traditions they revered. And these traditions, in the estimation of the philosophers themselves, originated not in Greece or Rome but in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The secrets of VooDoo passed from the black priesthood of Egypt -- who in turn, according to the accounts of Apollonius of Tyana and others, obtained their wisdom from even older lineages in Ethiopia and India -- to Moses and the Old Testament prophets, to the Essenes and to the earliest iterations of the Kabbalah. From here they went on to provide the backbone of the Western European esoteric tradition, transmitted through the Templars and others.

Yet in a parallel transmission, the inner teachings of VooDoo spread to the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Africa, where it was inadvertently transported by the European slave trade to the Caribbean and the Americas.

This esoteric transmission was fused and infused with the West African music of slaves and the former enslaved, and began to bubble up in ports of admixture and creative miscegenation like New Orleans. And with this subversive spread of Jes Grew through blues, jazz, calypso and other musical genres, arose the renewed rites of popular and ecstatic initiation of our era. The black mysteries reemerge to bring light to the masses.

Mystic Levelling

Even the new religions which were born from time to time -- always at epochs when the mutual-aid principle was falling into decay in the theocracies and despotic States of the East, or at the decline of the Roman Empire -- even the new religions have affirmed that same principle. They found their first supporters among the humble, in the lowest, downtrodden layers of society, where the mutual-aid principle is the necessary foundation of every-day life; and the new forms of union which were introduced in the earliest Buddhist and Christian communities, in the Moravian brotherhoods and so on, took the character of a return to the best aspects of mutual aid in early tribal life. -- Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution, Peter Kropotkin 

None of the religions began as orthodox dogma, formulated by and in the exclusive domain of the priestly elite. Instead, as Kropotkin realized, spiritual movements throughout history, be they of the followers of  "the Buddha" or of "the Christ" or of other less remembered sages, began as revelations springing from the common people. Only after an initial phase of popular enthusiasm and evangelical growth are these movements "brought under control" and molded into institutions used to further elite power.

Before this occurs, however, these new bursts into the beyond, blasts of awakening -- usually by a single individual but at times by small groups -- attract disciples and fellow travellers who almost invariably set up communities and sodalities based upon the principles of mutual aid which are lacking in the wider society.

And, as Kropotkin noticed, these movements of mutual aid always emerge "among the humble, in the lowest, downtrodden layers of society." It is the socially marginalized and the economically deprived that have the least to lose and the most to gain from new religious movements, which often start off revolutionary in tone and substance.

The Everlasting Gospel, far from referring to any particular religion or sect, represents this initial phase of revelatory and  revolutionary explosion within every religion. It passes as an undercurrent through the cracks of the established faiths, an eruption of mystical levelling and mutual aid, before once again being driven underground in the face of State and priestly suppression and/or co-option.

The mystical or visionary realization that the individual, the natural world and God -- however this is perceived or conceived -- are all one, also encompasses the idea that human society is a unity of mutual aid, every member equal yet absolutely unique and precious in the eyes of God.

Zeroing Out

In spite of all sorts of Brahmanical interpolations, grafting and handling, Tantra clearly rejects the varṇa system and patriarchy and, in the field of religion, all external formalities in regard to spiritual quest. These viewpoints are in virtual opposition to the Smarta-Purāṇic tradition, and that is why the followers of this system have been condemned and various attempts have been made to blacken the Tantric ideals. The traditions of varṇāśrama was always patronised by the ruling class, even by the Buddhist, Muslim and British rulers who were theoretically opposed to it. A critical student of religious history cannot fail to observe that certain forms of religious systems, especially those which uphold and justify a social system based on the principles of inequality and oppression, have been given massive support by the ruling class in all ages. -- History of the Tantric Religion, N.N. Bhattacharyya

Tantra in India certainly fits the pattern Kropotkin identifies. Like early Christianity, Buddhism and other religions it began as a movement of mutual aid among the downtrodden and the marginalized against the caste system and the patriarchal authorities. Bhattacharyya explains that Tantra practitioners were opposed to the priesthood and ecclesiastical hierarchy even of spiritual traditions, like Buddhism and Islam, which had started as liberation movements themselves but became fully absorbed by the system of control.

Tantra, however, can be understood as the resurfacing among the lower classes of the primordial and universal Mother Goddess worship, stemming back to the caves of the Paleolithic. Like resurgent Dionysianism in the West and Taoism in China -- the three existing as a triple branching of an even more archaic and worldwide shamanism -- Tantra is a direct extension of the oldest human revelation.

Tantra also restores an emphasis on the Earth, the body and its sexuality, and the particularly female mysteries. Before it, too, became incorporated into priestcraft -- although this was never wholly accomplished -- it was democratic and egalitarian in form and doctrine. Its affirmation of the physical world and the cycles of nature, including that of birth, death and rebirth, would seem to put it at odds with both the Vedantic philosophies of India and Platonism and Neoplatonism in the West.

However, Tantra, in its Buddhist or Hindu or Jain form, is not a base materialism. Instead, it is a reemergence of an earlier affirmation of the life cycle found in original Mother Goddess worship. Liberation is not obtained by rejecting the Earth, the body and the spirals of birth and rebirth. Instead Tantra returns to the radical affirmation of embodied existence as spiritual greatness.

As Uždavinys teaches, the Neoplatonists revered Parmenides as expressing the highest truths of the Platonic dialogues. The Parmenides is essentially a discursive meditation on the nature of the One. The late Neoplatonist Proclus explains in his commentary on the dialogue, that while the One absolutely transcends the categories of Being and Non-Being, and all subsequent categories of thought, it is also the originator and preserver of these. The One participates in all things.

Very similar metaphysical speculation was occurring in India at around the same time. The great Madhyamika (Middle Way school of Mahayana Buddhism) philosopher Nāgārjuna grappled with the same ideas in the 2nd century. Unlike in the Hellenic world, however, India embraced the concept that would eventually be symbolized by the number Zero.

So while Plato and especially the much later Neoplatonists were scratching their heads and stroking their beards about "the One that is not One"  -- how to account for the connection between the wholly transcendent One and the multiform world it must have spawned -- Nāgārjuna was able to take it back beyond the One to the "Zero," to śūnya, and to zeroness and emptiness, śūnyatā.

Śūnyatā not only shows that the "first principle" -- whatever that is -- is beyond the categories of being and non-being, but that all things, participating fully within it at all times, are likewise beyond these categories, likewise empty of own-being. From this insight an entire inversion of perspective can be gained.  

Nirvāṇa -- the highest apprehension of, and unity with, the so-called "One" -- is thus identical to Saṃsāra -- this present sub-lunar, ever-in-flux realm of life, death and rebirth. Both are "terms" or "realms" or "perceptions" or "states of consciousness" in which all categories are provisional, unfixed, and as transitory and "empty" as anything held by the senses and experienced by the body. "The One," or more accurately "The Zero," participates in matter because it is entirely identifiable with matter. The seeming paradox of transcendence yet participation is resolved.

And this is where things get really interesting. If the transcendent has become, and truly always was, wholly immanent, if the Good, the True and the Beautiful are present wherever and whenever people have eyes to see them, then questions of philosophy become those of epistemology and not ontology.

There are not two principle worlds -- the higher transcending all matter & embodied life and partially accessible only to rigid hierarchies of gods, angels and priests -- but there are two or more ways of knowing; "transcendent" modes of apprehension being just as accessible as the "ordinary" or mundane knowledge of the senses.

Only the doors of perception need to be cleansed, as Blake wrote much later, to be able to behold the infinite. And this may be not that far off from one important facet of Plato's teaching. In the Symposium we read that the Form of Beauty, which is an entry point into the entire realm of the Forms, can be grasped gradually through the conscious perception of particular instances or persons of "erotic" (reflecting Eros) beauty. In other words, a transformed perception of beautiful individuals can lead to an apprehension of divine beauty in all things.

A priesthood is not needed for this. Strict dogma and rites are not required, only effective techniques, and at times "simples" or substances, are desired which can be passed down from visionary to visionary. Spiritual insight has been levelled. Anyone can participate, and indeed always has been participating, in the Zero. Every instant of perception involves ourselves within it.

And as spiritual insight is levelled, democratized, so is social understanding. Each person has the potential to become priest or priestess of his or her own church. Just as it was the prophetess Diotima who initiated Socrates into the erotic mysteries and the "madness" coupled with it, it was the archaic insights of the primal Mother Goddess in India that brought alive the philosophical breakthroughs of Nāgārjuna and others.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Snatches of the Everlasting Gospel 1

Where have we landed? What moon rises? How tight the snare? How high does the bile well up? One step more and the floor caves in. Gentle creaking outwits the subtle approach of late compression. If we wager that this System of fixity outlasts even the desire for complete cessation, if every middle potential thwarts understanding, then what hope remains?

Mutually hostile national encampments. Barriers, lines, tripwires, unblinking eyes, stomping rubber. No migration. No inter-mixture. No permeation. The only other available offering is the gulag made global. Choose yer police state: particular or universal, whitewashed or rainbow-hued, assimilated or cosmopolitan, pure or impure. This is the present straightjacket of expression, both arms tied around back for maximum immobility.

And at each extreme, and in every gradation between, corporate entrenchment proceeds in snowballing descent. It somehow creeps beyond or between both sides of the permitted fare. The most ethnically homogenous states also have their iPhones and Starbucks. Corporate monoculture has already colonized the minds of those living in the most vigilant ethnostates.

A third position has been snatched from us. There is no beyond Left and Right. There is no beyond at all. "Left" and "Right" are merely two poles of an immanent sphere. “Beyond Left and Right” has become a recruiting slogan for seductive fascists in drag. And it works. "The enemy is Globalism," bleat the red-pilled. “Leftists” -- they could be your neighbours or even your family members -- are far easier to identify and confront than shadowy elites, and easier still to recognize than the dynamic forces of an impersonal economic machine fueled by social disparity and greed.

And the resulting resurgent “populism” -- its ranks bloated by the dispossessed -- becomes defined by this false "third position": Workers’ rights but not for migrants. Social safeguards but only for the national and racial in-group. Our military. Our borders. Our corporations. Our tradition. Our race. If only we could clean our own rooms, eliminate the filth and confusion and degeneracy, everything might turn out fine.

Of course, none of this is new -- modern history still drips with the gore of past cleansings -- and it has always ever been a means to perpetuate power in a different guise. The most horrorshow hoodwink. Po-po-mo proto-brownshirtism for the beard-styling and sweater set.

And in the Left corner: a 98-pound weakling with a victim complex, a wraith of the Vampire Castle, a puritanical doxxer and purger, a self-marginalizing identity campaigner, ideological purity taking the place of the racial or civilizational purity of their opponent, concerned more with policing the ranks of allies than in confronting the enemy.

Sanctioned thought progressively narrows and constricts. Even the weapons of liberation from past counter-cultural or radical movements -- autonomic mysticism, psychedelics, drop-out and refusal lifestyles, sexuality, paganism -- are rejected out of hand as being entirely co-opted by the Right.

And, in truth, this is occurring. The extreme Right is ecstatic to appear edgy, funny, hip. If the Left sterilizes and lobotomizes itself by shackling the imagination with reductionist materialism, the Right will suavely waltz in and offer a whole smorgasbord of spiritual and libidinal dainties. Wilhelm Reich becomes relevant again: the Left has once more allowed fascism to appear sexy, even holy.

But this Left is the unfortunate corner in which we find ourselves and must defend. It's all that's left. There is no outside of the ring. Even the spectators are on the inside. Either this or nationalist/internationalist state/corporate hellworld.

And let’s not be confused by definitions. The U.S. libertarian designation of the Left as collectivist and the Right as individualist is entirely misleading, and likely intended to mislead. The National Socialists were not socialists, largely successful propaganda aside; their name was designed to deceive and seduce the disenfranchised and desperate. Both the Nazis and the fascists, while implementing social programs to benefit their chosen constituents, did nothing to halt corporate capitalism. Instead, in these regimes the class structure of capitalism was exemplified.

Capitalism is emphatically not the free market -- a desire as utopian as genuine communism and paradoxically perhaps having much in common with it -- instead it is the presently-existing economic system which employs state privilege and the monopoly of force in order to further empower and enrich both capital and capitalists. It is really an extension, with cosmetic alterations, of the past rule of aristocracies and monarchies. Capitalism, though in varying degrees, is intrinsically authoritarian, by definition.

"Socialism," in the few times when it has grasped the reins the State, has also been authoritarian and pernicious, but this is precisely when it is not functioning as socialism. This is actually a perversion of its nature. Trotsky rightly called this system "state capitalism." Actual socialism, with workers' control of production as its aim, began as a libertarian movement of the underclasses, and in essence it still is. Equality must always be coupled with liberty.

Unlike capitalism, it has no vested interests to protect with State power (although the attainment of this power does create vested interests, to disastrous and well-known consequences). Socialism should be merely a transition to communism which, even by strict Marxist definition, is a stateless and classless society.

Socialist and "communist" parties and sects have attempted and continue to attempt to wield State power, through the ballot or the bullet, in order to enact this transition. Yet the anarchists have always -- from the get go -- rejected this as necessarily leading to strategic and ethical catastrophe (as predicted and witnessed by Proudhon, Bakunin, Emma Goldman in Russia, etc.). Thus the "Left" of this essay will be dedicated to the anarchist Left, other comrades being for the present welcomed into the struggle despite their greater or lesser delusions concerning the benign use of State power.

In truth, all states now are “mixed economies”: corporate capitalist governments that offer their populations certain benefits through taxation -- public roads, libraries, schools, welfare, etc. -- present in proportion to the strength of past and present social movements.

The Right, then, regardless if it advocates for an international "liberal" capitalism -- capitalism with benefits -- or for a nationalist conservative capitalism (and at times of crisis like now there is a genuine split along these lines among the ruling class, trickling down to the population), is always in defense of capitalism. The two branches amount to the same state-corporate rule.

The Left is, or should be, something else entirely. It seeks for the total overthrow of this system and desires for it to be replaced by a stateless and classless society or, better still, societies. Yet to do this it needs to know its roots, running deep through the culture and in the human psyche, and to take back all that was stolen during the long gory stomp of history. It needs to find its "tradition."

If we have learned to associate ceremonial magic with right-wing politics thanks to such figures as W B . Yeats and Aleister Crowley, we should learn to be more careful in our categorical assumptions. The idea of "tradition" was only hi-jacked by the Right in very recent times (and thanks in part to such "traditionalists" as Guénon, Evola, Jung, Eliade, or T. S. Eliot) . Formerly the Left had its tradition as well, the "Good Old Cause" that combined unmediated autonomy and unmediated spirituality. While the traditionalist Right veers toward a dualism of good and evil, spirit and body, hierarchy and separation, the Hermetic Left emphasizes "ancient rights and customs"of freedom, equality, justice-and bodily pleasure (e.g., Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell). The Left is "radical monist", Saturnian and Dionysian; the Right is "Gnostic", authoritarian and Apollonian. Naturally these terms and categories get, mingled and confused, combined and recombined, in an excessive exfoliation of the strangest hybrids and freaks. The Right has its mystical revolutionaries, the Left has its Gnostic Dualists. But as generalizations or ideal models I believe that the rival traditions can be clearly distinguished. -- "The Shamanic Trace"

This passage by Peter Lamborn Wilson (and, as an initial aside, none of the quoted authors here are free from controversy, nor are their ideas or actions accepted entirely by me), from his essay “The Shamanic Trace,” found in Escape from the Nineteenth Century, has been cited before in this blog. I continue to find his delineation of a tradition of the Hermetic Left to be compelling, and I’ve tweaked this notion only a bit into “Hermetic Anarchism.” The idea of a radical or even revolutionary tradition, emphasizing both freedom and equality, and combining “unmediated autonomy and unmediated spirituality” is an attractive one.

The Right, as Wilson explains, currently dominates our understanding of esoteric spirituality, and it is this perspective that permeates art, literature and popular culture. This perspective is present throughout the work of an entire spectrum of  20th century thinkers and writers. It spans from the self-named Traditionalists -- Guénon, Shuon and Evola and their successors like Mircea Eliade and even Joseph Campbell -- to the Modernists -- Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, W.B. Yeats etc. and those that they have influenced like Marshall McLuhan -- to occultists like Crowley and psychoanalysts like Carl Jung.

All of these men are deeply fascinating to me, their ideas appear constantly throughout this blog, and yet they are all very conservative or even reactionary while this blog attempts to be just the opposite. But the ideas all of these men contain, I believe, deeper and older and more emancipatory currents which have the potential to break the narrow bounds of their politics.

The bulk of the “Left,” though, refuses to engage with these figures and their concepts altogether because it concludes, and understandably so, that their metaphysical philosophies are inseparably coupled with their tainted politics. So in rejection of all spiritual and metaphysical speculation and sentiment, leftists generally favour a fairly reductive scientific materialism.

Discussions of altered states of consciousness, mythology, tradition, the occult, synchronicity and other psychic anomalies, archetypes, non-physical entities, magic, etc. are largely dismissed as being apolitical or denounced outright as being reactionary and quasi-fascist. But as Wilson explains, it is relatively recently that the Right has “hi-jacked” the idea of tradition and monopolized the discussion of the above subjects, none of which are intrinsically abhorrent.

Yet an older, ancient and even archaic, “tradition” has existed and still does exist. It stretches back to the earliest Paleolithic, to the dawn of modern humanity and maybe prior to that, to what Marx & Engels called “primitive communism” -- the original stateless and classless societies. But what the Marxists chose and choose not to emphasize, to the detriment of the entire revolutionary project, is that in addition to being anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian these “primitive” tribal societies were, for tens of thousands of years, deeply spiritual: animist, pantheist, non-dualist, shamanic, magical.

And even towards the end of the Neolithic, when these libertarian and egalitarian spiritual antinomians began to be enslaved and eradicated through the emergence and expansion of the ancient states and empires, their influence persisted throughout history as a subversive and subterranean stream.

The following does not attempt to sketch out the entire history of this tradition -- which William Blake, following the radical Diggers and Ranters of the English Revolution, called “the Everlasting Gospel” -- as this needs to traced out for every nation and culture on Earth, but instead offers a scatter-shot sampling of radical spiritual movements and manifestations across space and time, taken from multiple and promiscuous sources.

Right traditionalists can be mined and plundered for concepts and rites that they themselves have appropriated, but even when these are “liberated” they pale in comparison to knowledge of the living tradition, however loose, ephemerally connected and unorganized it may be, of the Everlasting Gospel.

A Certain Propensity

Julius Evola is perhaps an appropriate character to start with, especially because of the increasing popularity of his ideas with alt-right and far right groups in recent years. Evola hi-jacks the tradition by inverting historical reality. We can therefore differentiate legitimate tradition from reactionary fantasy by inverting Evola.

The favourable climate and the natural plentiness eventually induced most people to seek peace and rest and to cultivate the feeling of contemplation and getting lost in nature, rather than an active pursuit of affirmation and self-transcendence. Therefore, even in the order of what can be affected to a certain degree by external factors, while the Northern Light goes hand in hand, through solar and Uranian symbols, with a virile ethos and a warrior spirituality consisting of a harsh will to establish order and to dominate, conversely, in the Southern traditions the predominance of the chthonic theme and of the pathos of death and resurrection corresponds to a certain propensity to promiscuity, escapism, a sense of abandonment, and a naturalistic pantheism with sensual or mystical and contemplative overtones. -- Revolt Against the Modern World

Evola's distinction between the Northern and Southern traditions is misleading from the outset. If harsh northern climates inevitably generate cultures with "a harsh will to establish order and to dominate" then the relatively peaceful cultures and tribes of Arctic Canada and Siberia are difficult to account for.

But we all know what Evola really means, and he is quite overt about this. He is referring to Germanic people, Aryan people, White people. It is this race that possesses a "virile ethos and a warrior spirituality" and that is exclusively on "an active pursuit of affirmation and self-transcendence." Evola is apparently unconcerned that his characterization of  Germanic tribes largely contradicts the early accounts by Tacitus and Julius Caesar, both of whom commented on the high status of women within these communal societies and their essential integration with the natural environment.

Anthropologists Marija Gimbutas and Riane Eisler have argued, however, that an essential division existed between older, more matriarchal and agricultural, "partnership" societies and patriarchal, chariot-riding "dominator" societies, but the question remains if the latter arose because of pressures from early imperial states. Oppressive encroachment from Imperial Rome on the stateless tribes to the North seems to have had the effect of causing these groups to militarize in self-defense and then eventually to become expansive themselves.

In any case, in a choice between "dominator" and "partnership" societies, it is obvious what the fascism-is-not-reactionary-enough Evola would choose. It is the matriarchal, partnership Southern tradition which is the source of cultural decadence and darkness, whereas the pure and virile Light of reason and order shines only from the hallucinated North.

However, it is not just a matter of flipping Evola's terms and raising the South above the North. Just as his depiction of the Northern tradition is for the most part fiction, his sense of the Southern traditions is likewise skewed. Affirmation and self-transcendence can be found, for example, in southern Buddhism, but it is also true that the first imperial states were formed in the hotter climes of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

What Evola and his recent fans invoke is a mythic justification of certain values, and an elevation these to a "tradition." Yet, in doing so, he also by necessity maps out a counter-tradition, with contrary values, which can be now affirmed, reappropriated as it were.  But, leaving Evola sputtering in the dust, instead of this representing a lunar or Southern tradition only, the affirmation can broadened to include essentially the archaic tradition of those cultures, across the globe, that thrived for millennia before the onset and onslaught of the State.

The values that Evola disparages can be celebrated: the seeking of peace and rest, the reverence for nature and the feminine, contemplation of the fertility cycle of birth, death and rebirth, sensual and mystical pantheism, promiscuity and the ecstatic overcoming of all boundaries, the emphasis on the sharing of possessions and social equality. All of these are facets of the Everlasting Gospel.

Now the animals rites of the caves were certainly instituted by the Aurignacians, and the female images, though never present in these sanctuaries, are as certainly an expression in the outside world of a power which also had its place within -- hence the stylised wall engravings and the inscribed and painted symbols. It seems reasonable to imagine that the makers of those statuettes had also passed beyond the stage of localised relationship with the archetypal beasts, to the conception of a pervading principle, not in this case their own creative power, but a life-substance through which that power could act, conceived already in the human form of maternal fecundity. -- The Gate of Horn, G.R. Levy

This movement in thought among peoples of the Upper Paleolithic from local animal rites to a conception of a more universal "pervading principle" of maternal fertility and fecundity may represent the essential origins of the Everlasting Gospel, although Gimbutas and others speculate that Goddess worship may have gone back hundreds of thousands of years. Certainly there is much evidence of the coupling of animal and woman worship, with many of the earliest figurines and cave drawings being hybrid animals and human females (with some male "shamanic" depictions included).

As Levy points out, the caves themselves invoke the Goddess. Caves were the model of later temples worldwide, but both temples and the primal caves take the form of the vulva and womb of the Goddess. Celebrants were initiated within and emerged reborn. The spiral or serpentine designs on the threshold or just within these caverns indicate the creative and life-giving power of these portals into the mysteries.

If this is also the origin of Evola's "Southern" tradition, then so be it. The whole cycle of life is affirmed, all creatures viewed as being equal sons and daughters of the Goddess. According to Gimbutas, this is humanity's oldest religion, its most long-lasting -- pockets surviving to the present -- and its most widespread, existing on all continents.

Marx and Engels confused spirit with established religion -- as their doctrinaire followers continue to do -- because, as Western white males, they could not see the total paradigm of ancient women’s original communism. Coming from this linear, fragmenting, and reductive Western tradition -- which has historic roots in the Judeo-Christian Bible as well as in Aristotelian-Platonic, Greco-Roman hyper-rationality -- they could not comprehend the primal holism of human experience on earth. As a result Marxism tends to reinforce, rather than oppose, Western capitalism’s notorious strategy of alienation. Marxist analysts generally are obsessed with isolating economic/productive development from magical/religious/sexual development. -- The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor

Sjoo and Mor, inspired by the research of Gimbutas and others, contrast what they call "ancient women's original communism" with reductive Marxism. The statement that white males could not possibly see the "total paradigm" of primitive communism, and the Everlasting Gospel arising from it, is most certainly wrong. It's true that at least from the outset of expansionist states patriarchy has been dominant, but as the archaic partnership societies were egalitarian, men also participated in the "primal holism" that these authors describe.

In addition, ever since the emergence of  patriarchy and the State, certain men have also been at the forefront of resistance movements, both social and intellectual, that have opposed oppression and inequality. Even within Jewish sects and early Christianity, as well as in Pythagorean and Platonic fraternities, the anti-authoritarian and communist values of the Everlasting Gospel are reflected.

Sjoo and Mor are right, though, in their basic critique of Marxism. Marx, in rejection of the idealism of Hegel -- himself deeply influenced by the Hermetic tradition (yet unfortunately also a big fan of the State) -- postulated a strict dialectical materialism. All historical processes are reduced in this philosophy to class conflict and material production.

The economic analysis of Marx and Engels is crucial for understanding the development of capitalism and the contradictions inherent within it, but by ignoring or even suppressing the magical, religious and sexual currents of past communal or revolutionary movements, Marxism does tend to contribute to the very alienation it claims to struggle against. The Everlasting Gospel rejects such alienation in total.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Tracer Off Yer Gob

The following stems from a May facebook conversation, initiated by writer Jasun Horsley, on the recent decision to decriminalize the use of magic mushrooms in Denver, Colorado. Horsley's position is that the decrimalization of psychedelics is not the automatic good that many in the "alternative" community deem it to be. His view of psychedelics, although he was a advocate of their use in the past, is now mostly negative. Several people challenged his perspective and I also weighed in.

Jasun has reproduced the facebook discussion on his own site, where it continues. I find it to be a fascinating and important debate that includes not only psychedelics but many other topics dear to this blog. I present below my initial comment on facebook as it was reformatted by Horsley on his site, Jasun's response, and finally my subsequent thoughts which I have decided to release here at this time. I've added paragraph numbers to Jasun's piece, with corresponding numbers in my own reply, in order to make referencing easier. Here we go...

From Znore at Faceborg:
Eating alters consciousness. Not eating alters consciousness. Drinking water alters consciousness. Not drinking water alters consciousness. Sleeping alters consciousness. Not sleeping alters consciousness. Exercise alters consciousness. Sitting still alters consciousness.
My point here, as you know, is that there is no such state as pure and pristine, “natural,” consciousness. “Anything that alters the body chemistry to alter consciousness is, by definition, distorting the body’s natural frequency and transmission.” All of these things and many more do this, and all of them beyond a certain point will produce intoxication. But even if we were austerely moderate in all things, we would still exist in culture, would still communicate with language. Both of these alter consciousness continually and profoundly. Culture and language have both been shaped by the visionary experiences that people have had for millennia. And the “traditional” religions are founded on these experiences (the burning bush and Sinai for Moses, the night journey and the transmission of the Koran for Mohammed, the desert retreat and whatever the hell happened on and after the cross for Christ). 40 days of fasting in the desert or five dried grams alone in my room, which isn’t “storming heaven”? One person’s “psychic” experience is another’s “spiritual” experience.
I remember reading about a debate among Traditionalists at one point concerning the question if Buddhism should be considered “traditional” or actually heretical to Tradition. I think the problem that some had with it was precisely because it does not accept an ultimate distinction between the so-called mundane, psychic and spiritual realms or planes. Each of these three, for it, is marked by emptiness and suffering. Each interpenetrates the other at every point. Gods, demons and fairies are as empty of their own separate being as animals or humans. Eventually Buddhism gets accepted into the Traditionalist fold, but only after its stance of radical immanence gets blunted or twisted into a belief system in which spiritual transcendence is the ultimate goal — like a kind of Advaita Vedanta with an even more turbo-charged negative theology. To fit the Buddha into the Traditionalist script the myth of him being an incarnation of Vishnu gets emphasized, as it is in the Upton interview above. Safely Hinduized Buddhism. Not nirvana is samsara, but nirvana is Objective Spiritual Reality.

1) I get that purity can be a delusional and dangerous pursuit, in and of itself, even that it’s at the root of many dangerous delusions. But surely postmodernist sophistry isn’t the best answer?

2) To say one person’s psychic is another’s spiritual experience is to negate and ignore, rather than refute, Upton’s proposition, that the spiritual and the psychic realms are distinct, one being eternal and absolute, the other being intersubjective and temporal. That doesn’t mean we can’t have psychic experiences that provide glimpses of the spiritual; hence I would say, some psychic experiences represent genuine wisdom-insight into the eternal whereas others (and surely most) do not. This is my experience: some of my experiences might, but most I now know don’t, though I thought they did at the time. And the ones that most seem to, these days, are the least “psychic” and the most visceral or sensational (in literal sense), just as the ones I used to believe but now don’t, were the most psychic and dramatic.
3) In our podcast conversation, you expressed incomprehension over the idea of disembodiment, suggesting that every experience we have is embodied. I would say that I didn’t really understand what disembodiment is, either, until I began to have experiences of its opposite, of consciousness returning to the body, or arriving there for the first time. These only began some years after I gave up intoxicants, which I see as part of the reason for my body “waking up.”
4) The body has an optimum state in any given moment; this is going to relate not only to what we do with it, put in it, and what comes out of it in that moment, but also in the immediate and even distant past (starting with trauma-affect and corresponding toxins). Getting back to the baseline of the body means detoxifying, and that means, not only getting out the toxins still in there from years of abuse (of whatever sort), but reducing the amount being put into it on a daily basis.
5) Saying that everything alters conscious or is storming heaven—as if the fact of a spectrum makes every point on the spectrum equal and therefore the whole question irrelevant—smacks of sophistry. Would you really want to have a conversation (or be married to) a total drunk? If not, why not? Would you want to live on a diet of M & Ms and Cheetos? If not, why not? If it’s all the same, why discern at all? And if it’s not, why reject the possibility that sobriety—abstinence from obvious and observable consciousness alterants—is a means to get back to the body’s natural, toxin-free state?
6) The main reason, as far as I can see, is because we like doing stuff that alters our consciousness and don’t really care too much about the cost for the body. And the more we do them, the less we are able to refer to the body in a toxin-free state, the less we have to ever reckon with that cost.
7) For myself, that’s not an option anymore. I feel the same way about talking to cannabis or entheogen users as I would assume you do about talking to hopeless drunks. It is to less extreme a degree, sure, but for more or less the same reason: I don’t feel there’s the same opportunity for a genuine conversation-connection. Sometimes, this may be wrong (you may have been stoned when we had our talk and it was a good one; I know someone I did a podcast later admitted to have taken LSD!). But I am OK with erring on the side of caution when drawing boundaries around this, because I have to draw the line somewhere, and because, in the past, I have erred on the other side. This is all part of finding the necessary balance for myself.
8) To compare fasting to entheogen-eating misses the point rather; fasting is a means to detoxify the body and it can be dangerous, yes, and when done in a gung-ho, heaven-storming manner (as can anything), it can inflate the ego and harm the body. But as a basic practice to compare it to drug-use (and assume it’s all about consciousness alteration, per se) seems like a case of the hammer calling everything a nail.
9) I would agree that Upton relies on knowledge-based metaphors (spiritual jargon) that are therefore limited and limiting, but so do you; and in the case of Upton, I feel a genuine wisdom transmission reading and talking to him that is very rare, in my experience, and leads me to put trust in his knowing, even if don’t especially trust the knowledge set he is referring to (Islam, trad metaphysics, etc.), since I don’t trust any knowledge base.
10) My primary influence currently in this regard is my ongoing association with Dave Oshana, who has very strict rules about not working with people who use obvious consciousness alterants. This isn’t a prejudice, as far as I can see, but seems based on an experiential awareness that people who are still self-intoxicating aren’t ready for an encounter with him, and because, at the same time, he is viscerally aware of being affected by their levels of toxicity. In other words, they won’t benefit to anything like the degree they might if clean, and he will suffer from close contact with them much more than is necessary or manageable.
11) Though I relate and even feel the same way, I can’t or don’t take such a hard line, because my own history (“karma”) seems to have resulted in attracting people who have histories of intoxication and addiction. But where I do draw the line is at working with people who are still invested in defending their intoxication as a legitimate means to get closer to reality, rather than something designed to delay a full encounter with it. This sort of doublethink I find crazy-making and I lack the patience to navigate that terrain. It suggests to me that the person is too divorced from reality to even recognize the ways they are perpetuating their dissociation. That’s a problem, clearly, whether I am right or wrong, when it comes to communicating across such a divide.

A Tracer

1) “But surely postmodern sophistry isn’t the best answer.” Nor is this kind of labeling the best rebuttal. I’ve noticed the accusation of “postmodern sophistry” or the like surprisingly often recently. Usually it is given in response, as you have done, to a perception that certain categories within a system of thought, or within an argument, are being attacked non-constructively, just for the hell of it. Nihilism for the sake of nihilism.

I don’t think that this is actually the position of the sophists or the postmodernists, but I get the objection. My position is also different. I challenge categories not to leave a gaping void in their wake, but to hopefully show that the acceptance of categories, any categories, necessarily limits our understanding. This, by the way, also explains my dislike of “purity,” a dislike I’m glad to find we share.

I am influenced in this approach by Greek skepticism and by Nāgārjuna, both of which tried to achieve insight by breaking down, showing the absurdity and/or interdependence of, arbitrary categories and classifications.

2) “Upton’s proposition, that the spiritual and the psychic are distinct...” This distinction I do challenge. The distinction is historical and conditional. It accepts an Aristotelian, geocentric cosmology, which however is a powerful and often helpful myth of its own. But it’s a myth that divides the world in certain ways, like any other, and these divisions have ramifications for our understanding.

It’s interesting that Dante, the poet who beautifully immortalized this cosmological framework, also took the different realms and spheres expressed in it as states of mind. The literal sense is only one intended way to read The Divine Comedy, and not the deepest. Hell, Purgatory and Paradise are primarily differences in knowing, not ontologically separate realms.

And as subsequent poets -- like Ezra Pound -- point out, these states often penetrate one another, rapidly succeed one another, are experienced differently by different individuals simultaneously. The spiritual, the psychic, the astral, even the infernal, can all be experienced in this body, unintoxicated, at this moment. The experience does change depending on the experiencer and his or her changing states of mind.

Many thinkers and cultures have accepted this. Bruno, in alignment with the Hermetic view, overturned the traditional cosmology by claiming that there are an infinity of worlds, each its own centre, each containing the all. In Tibetan Buddhism there is the Chöd ritual which has the aim to accept even the demonic as the highest expression of the self/non-self. Shamanism throughout the world is predicated on the idea of the interpenetration of worlds/states of consciousness.

3) “You expressed incomprehension over the idea of disembodiment...” For me, embodied existence means perceptual existence. The senses, like Blake said, are the inlets of the soul for this age. If there is perception, there is a soul/body (I more or less equate the soul and body).

So-called “disembodied” experience still involves perception (and if it didn’t it would be no experience at all). This implies the senses and so a body (of some sort). But “disembodied” experiences often include a sensation of a long thin cord that is still attached to the present biological body. When this is cut the “body” dies and another body takes its place (or not?).

But I wonder about your own position. On the one hand, you stress the importance of the body and are against disembodiment, but on the other hand you seem to be promoting a spiritual and transcendent experience beyond or outside of the body. I’m assuming that you’re talking about two different types of disembodiment?

4) “The body has an optimum state in any given moment.” Possibly, but for what? How long does this last? An optimal state to receive a vision, for instance, might not be the optimal state to go to sleep or to run a marathon. The body/soul is in continual flux, and this is affected by sensations, memories, thoughts, emotions, culture, media... Which of these things are toxins? Which of these are produced by toxins? Which of these are beneficial for “spiritual” growth?

5) “Saying that everything alters consciousness or is storming heaven -- as if the whole fact of a spectrum makes every point on the spectrum equal and therefore the whole question is irrelevant -- smacks of sophistry.” I do think that everything alters consciousness -- all of the things listed above and more: food, water, sleep, other people, etc. -- but I didn’t say that everything storms heaven. Each point along the spectrum is different.

Yet there isn’t so much of a spectrum (ranging from what start to what end?) as there is a network that flashes from node to node. Perception changes constantly. There is no pure state. Certain states, though, do break thru, are experienced as glimpses of eternity. I just don’t see these as being transcendent or apart from the physical/material. They allow us to witness what is perpetually present, in this body, on this Earth.

Are these glimpses more frequent or more profound in the absence of “toxins”? I don’t think this question makes sense. Are people subsiding on a diet of Cheetos and M&Ms barred from having a vision of God? I’ve had lucid conversations with drunks (and while drunk!) and plenty of deadening, soul-sucking interactions with the absolutely sober. And of course the reverse. Grace may fall on both the “sinner” and the “sinless.”

The aim of detoxification is surely not wrong, but this in itself is no guarantee for obtaining sanctity of vision. Strict ascetics are occasionally transformed into spiritual monsters, acidhead wastrels become saints. Ego reduction rather than ascetic practice seems to be the key factor. We can likely agree that abstemious holier-than-thou posturing is nothing new.

6) We do like doing things that alter our consciousness. How could we not? This is like saying we like to live, as every moment of life involves the alteration of consciousness. But I think you mean abrupt alterations of consciousness. Rapid and extreme jerks from one state to another. Yes, many of us like that too. And yes, these alterations do affect the body. Always in a bad way? Never in a way that afterwards makes us healthier?

There is no perfectly toxin-free state of the body, as you appear to be saying, only relatively free (or differently intoxicated). We age because of toxins (entropic substances or forces outside of our physical body that disrupt its functions). Who doesn’t age? Who doesn’t die?

7) “You may have been stoned when we had our talk and it was a good one...” Hehe, did I sound stoned? I must not have had my tea. It’s difficult and expensive to procure weed here in Japan and the penalties are severe if you get caught with it. So I don’t have many opportunities to smoke a pile of it and I’m cautious when I do. These days, even when I possess it myself, I savour it and a little goes a long way. No, I could not do a podcast stoned. I wouldn’t want to try. Recently I get most high on books and the changing seasons. And yes it was a good talk!

8) “To compare fasting to entheogen-eating misses the point rather...” And you have missed mine. In my previous comment, I was not comparing general fasting with shroom-gobbling; I was specifically talking of Christ’s forty-day ordeal in the desert. This was undoubtedly a vision quest. This kind of extensive fasting has as its primary aim extreme consciousness alteration. My purpose for making this comparison is the obvious one of saying there are many roads to vision. Not all of them (any?) are particularly healthy for the physical body.

9) I’ve actually been quite influenced by Traditionalist thought (I think Guénon’s critique of “the reign of quantity,” for instance, is crucially important). I’ve read Guénon, Evola, Shuon and others, and through you I’ve become a little bit familiar with Upton. I wouldn’t criticize Upton or the rest for their use of “spiritual jargon.” That language is necessary for this field, and I use it without shame. But I am critical of certain ideas expressed by these writers.

Buddhism, in my opinion, should remain as a heresy to the Traditionalists if they are to be consistent. Unlike the traditions they revere (the Abrahamic faiths, orthodox Hinduism), Buddhism -- in most of its manifestations -- is not concerned with the transcendent. It does advocate the changing of consciousness (mostly through meditation), but it promotes this as a means to become more aware of existence in this body, in this world.

I think this is a very important difference, and this stress on immanence is also shared by Taoism, Confucianism, shamanism and other varied traditions. The central question is how to live well in this life, not a focus on the afterlife, union with the God outside of this world, etc. “Transcendent” experiences exist, and are sought after, but they are accepted as glimpses of our actual non-dual mutuality with all things.

And the point is to make these glimpses last longer and longer. Transcendence in radical immanence. God, existing or not, is synonymous with the world and our minds perceiving it. A pantheism without the pan, the theos, or the ism. The Buddha is not an avatar in this view -- or secondarily so -- but is one who has become aware and who provides a path for others to become aware.

Traditionalism, intended or not by its adherents, gets used these days by reactionary groups as a spiritual foundation for the politics of the latter. This is chiefly what I caution against. The cosmological hierarchies delineated by Traditionalism (whether or not these are held to literally exist by the religious traditions themselves), including the distinction between the “psychic” and the “spiritual,” can help to undergird and extend present and desired political and social hierarchies.

The recent popularity of Evola (and I’m aware that Traditionalists now try to distance themselves from Evola, but the positions of Guénon, etc. are not really that different) among the alt-right and others even further to the right is an illustration of this. Evola’s spiritual hierarchy, like all hierarchies, has its winners and losers, and the losers of his system nicely correspond with those targeted by the far right: the global South, the darker races, the religions of the Mother, women, the fluid and boundary-dissolving in general.

To the extent that psychedelics tend to promote the stretching and dissolving of categorical boundaries (which in my experience they certainly do), they in turn threaten those individuals and groups whose power and influence depend on the maintenance of rigid social and intellectual hierarchies. This is not to say that psychedelics and other means of boundary dissolution are not used by particular power structures in order to ideologically destabilize rival power structures, but it is true that the use of these agents is subversive to concentrated power in general. They are two-edged swords at the very least.

Guénon writes of the widening cracks of the Great Wall, the latter a barrier protecting our psyches from the predatory entities of the astral realm. Psychedelics, according to the Traditionalists, would certainly widen these cracks, inviting possession and madness. Evola directly mentions psychedelics in this regard. But in late antiquity, the Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus had a similar warning for the unprepared:

All those who are offensive and who awkwardly leap after divine mysteries in a disordered way are not able to associate with the Gods due to the slackness of their energy of deficiency of their power. And on account of certain defilements they are excluded from the presence of pure spirits but are joined to evil spirits and are filled by them with the worst possession. They become wicked and unholy and, being glutted with undisciplined pleasures and filled with evil, they affect habits foreign to the gods.  (Gregory Shaw trans.)

Notice, though, that Iamblichus doesn’t totally write off exploration of these middle realms, and in fact it is only through this zone that we could ever hope to reach the Intelligible. Our experiences of the highest Spirit must be mediated by more corporeal emanations. But through theurgical practice and technique -- which might include the ingestion of “simples” -- the soul guided by reason and love could make the journey.

The Traditionalists argue that without enlightened initiation and guidance -- both extremely rare in this era -- this journey is essentially impossible. To undertake it haphazardly or ignorantly is to flirt with madness, death or getting irretrievably lost in the Bardo. Only the reestablishment of traditional priestly structures and hierarchies of initiation, and thus the reactionary politics required to reinstate these institutions, would make such a journey safe enough to attempt.

But millions have and do attempt the journey. Very few are successful, but on the other hand, most are not ruined utterly. Most remain quasi-initiated, half-baked maybe, but altered in both positive and negative ways, as with most experiences.

The contrast to the metaphor of the widening cracks in the Great Wall is that of the gradual opening of the Doors of Perception, coming from Blake. Psychedelics do, at least occasionally, help to open these doors. This is really undeniable. The narrow chinks in the cavern of our sensory perception are widened. Although the doors can be traversed both ways, of course.

As we open and peer out, extending our experience of the world, mind beholding mind, things can and do enter in, but even in this benighted age we are not totally defenseless. Travel reports filter back. We find guides along the road, guides that maybe have only taken a few intrepid and reckless steps beyond our own and then retreat, but this news is sufficient to allow us to stumble forward in the dark. Pitfalls and traps and other potential dangers are marked. Rough maps are sketched out. We proceed not entirely blindly.

It’s hardly a storming of heaven. This isn’t a titanic assault on Olympus. If we’re being seduced and misled by counter-initiatory and counter-traditional powers then these are extremely inefficient. Were psychedelics designed and disseminated by these and lesser agencies to direct the course of culture in a predetermined way, as the absolutist just-so story now goes? But designed by who exactly?

It’s easier to make this case for synthetic chemical compounds like LSD, but what about mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca? Were all these agents of “intoxication” placed in the garden millennia ago to ensnare our psyches? Yet the most archaic accounts say the opposite -- these plants are the foods of the gods. And as they “intoxicate” so do other methods -- extreme fasting, sleep deprivation, other physical austerities and ordeals -- similarly unbalancing our “normal” physical state.

I don’t think that anyone could make the case that the CIA and other agencies haven’t attempted, and likely still attempt, to control the psychedelic experience. But did they succeed? This can be by no means unambiguously confirmed. In my opinion, based on my own experience and the reports of others, there is much more evidence that they failed in their quest, and perhaps spectacularly so. And how could they have succeeded? It would be akin to fully locking down the astral dream realm. I can’t imagine how even a single trip of mine could be controlled. All within is unexpected and unpredictable.

Yet the evidence given by the usual conspiracy-monger set is that the “degenerate” changes in society subsequent to the psychedelic revolution -- and the breakdown of traditional religions, feminism, the “gay agenda,” increased immigration and multiculturalism, “socialism” usually top the list -- is somehow proof that psychedelics effectively nudged culture towards the desired course.

But all of these things (and by no means are they necessarily evil in themselves) were well in the works before psychedelics became widespread, and for not a few users psychedelic experience led in the opposite direction -- back to traditional religion and conservative politics (Upton himself is a prime example, perhaps you are also).

In the old days, psychedelics were blamed for pushing young people towards godless communism. But personally my trips escorted me to a contrary path -- away from state communist agnosticism to a kind of anti-authoritarian pantheism. All part of the Agenda? From the Reign of Quantity to the dominion of the Anti-Christ? Maybe so!

But to try to wrap this up: I’m also very wary of psychedelics -- even pot -- and I never advocate doing them these days without prior warning. They often do lead people astray and more than occasionally disastrously so. Malign possession is a very real possibility, and there is always the potential that our experiences are being monitored and directed to some extent.

Yet grace is also present here. Boldness tends to be favoured by the gods. Real wisdom can be gained. The striving for purity and order and perfect predictability can be more dangerous than a leap into the unknown. And is it hard to see how no longer locking people up for desiring such a leap could be anything other than a good thing.