Occult History, Part One: The Magic Lantern Show

One of the things that routinely baffles newcomers to occultism is the amount of verbiage that occult literature tends to devote to exotic rewritings of history. Pick up pretty much any book written on occult subjects during what we may as well call the Theosophical Century—the period from 1875 to 1975, when the somewhat quirky faux-Hindu cosmology developed by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was the lingua franca of occult studies across most of the industrial world—and you’re as likely as not to find  references to Atlantis, Lemuria, and various other locations not found on conventional maps.

Though that’s still the most common version of occult history, others abound. It used to be de rigueur, for example, for mass-market books on Wicca to devote Chapter One to a colorful and dubious exposition of faux history tracing the origins of Wicca back through the medieval witch cult to some suitably romantic goddess-worshipping culture of the distant past. On a considerably more erudite level, most of Revolt Against the Modern World, Julius Evola’s manifesto of Traditionalist occultism, is devoted to his account of a suppositious Heroic-Uranian past and its slow degeneration into what he saw as the effeminate slime pits of modernity. Other examples abound; for well over a century and a half now, it’s a poor excuse for an occult tradition that doesn’t have some topsy-turvy version of the history of the world on offer.

That habit has become so pervasive that it’s easy to assume that it was always the case. I well recall how surprised I was when I discovered that this isn’t true at all. From the oldest forms of Western occultism on record straight through to the heyday of Renaissance magic, occultists got along just fine with the same version of history their more conventional neighbors believed in. As far as anybody knows, the ancient Greek goetes and magoi who first fused bits of Greek philosophy and myth with the magical techniques of Egypt and Babylon, and created the first draft of Western occultism, didn’t concern themselves with colorful narratives about lost civilizations.

For that matter, when Aristocles of Athens—the philosopher whose broad shoulders got him the nickname Plato—put narratives about a drowned country called Atlantis into two of his dialogues, nobody seems to have connected those passages with anything particularly occult.  Students of his writings for centuries thereafter carried on boisterous debates about whether he’d meant Atlantis as a bit of actual history or as a colorful extended metaphor, of the sort he put elsewhere in his writings, but nobody in ancient Greece seems to have been interested in tracing their occult teachings back to some hypothetical Atlantean source. Occult wisdom, from their perspective, didn’t come from the past; it came directly from the gods.

Fast forward through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the same rule by and large applies. The classic magical textbooks of both periods—the Picatrix in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy in the later Renaissance—made plenty of noise about their dependence on old books and ancient sources, but the books and the sources came from places and times well known to the mainstream historians of the day. It’s when you jump into the dark age of occultism that followed the scientific revolution—the two centuries or so when magic, astrology, and the rest of it survived only among rural cunning folk and secretive occult lodges—that the scene changes abruptly: strange claims start popping up around a handful of points on the historical spectrum, and spread from there.

By the time Eliphas Levi kickstarted the modern occult era with his Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic in 1855, occultism and romantic rewritings of history were a happily married couple. Levi himself gave the pair a belated wedding present with his book A History of Magic, which is great fun to read but has rather less to do with actual history than your average Harlequin romance has to do with actual relationships. Thereafter the flood gates opened promptly, leading to the situation sketched out in the opening paragraphs of this essay.

So what happened? How did made-up history and occult philosophy meet, fall in love, and tie the knot? It’s a complicated question, but part of the answer certainly dates to the year 1614, when a scholar named Isaac Casaubon published an essay on the date of a collection of eccentric religious writings.

The writings are usually called the Corpus Hermeticum. They’re in koine Greek—the mutant form of ancient Greek that emerged in the eastern half of the ancient Mediterranean world after Alexander the Great’s conquests placed that end of the ancient world under Greek-speaking management—and they teach a religious doctrine that reads more or less like what you’d get if you took the mystical end of Greek philosophy and blended it with an assortment of borrowings from Judaism, on the one hand, and the more intellectual end of ancient Egyptian religion on the other. (As we’ll see, this isn’t accidental.) The two other facts you need to know about the Corpus Hermeticum are, first, that it says some very positive things about magic, and second,  that it was supposedly written by an ancient Egyptian sage named Hermes the Thrice Great: in Greek, that works out as Hermes Trismegistos.

Until 1614, all that anybody in Europe knew about the Corpus Hermeticum was that one copy—in all probability, the only one that survived the end of the Roman world—went onto the antiquities market after the fall of Constantinople in 1452, and got picked up eleven years later by a buyer for Cosimo de Medici, the ruler of the Italian city-state of Florence. Cosimo, who liked to fancy himself a patron of art and culture, had a brilliant young man on his staff named Marsilio Ficino, who promptly turned the Greek text into readable Latin and launched it on its career. Historical scholarship was still pretty much in its infancy; nobody saw any good reason to question the idea that an ancient Egyptian sage named Hermes Trismegistos had written the Corpus Hermeticum; and it didn’t hurt, either, that an early Christian author had written about this same sage, praising his wisdom and claiming that he’d been an older contemporary of Moses.

Imagine for a moment, dear reader, that you’re a typical Renaissance intellectual, fascinated by Greek philosophy, intrigued by magic, and less than impressed by the official religion of your time, though of course you wouldn’t admit to the latter two in public. All of a sudden somebody hands you a book that’s apparently the last surviving body of ancient Egyptian religious wisdom, full of stuff that looks a lot like Greek philosophy and other things that are highly reminiscent of your favorite parts of the Bible—and it says that magic isn’t evil and Satanic, far from it, it’s a way to worship God. Are you going to jump on it, as my grandmother used to say, like a duck on a June bug? Of course you are.

That was the historical accident that kicked Renaissance occultism into high gear. All over Europe, people interested in magic grabbed the Corpus Hermeticum and used it to convince themselves, and on occasion other people, that their interest in magic was perfectly harmless, even holy. In the process, an imaginary Egypt took shape in the European mind, a land of mighty temples where sages pored over the mysteries of the cosmos and, by the way, knew a lot more about everything worth knowing than anybody in modern times.  Then Isaac Casaubon came along and ruined it all.

He probably had that intention in mind, to be fair. A devout and dour Protestant with no time for occultism, he tackled the Corpus Hermeticum with an eye toward inconsistencies, of which it had quite a few, and showed beyond reasonable doubt that it had to have been written much, much later than its eager fans believed. Modern scholars agree with him, by the way; the current consensus is that it was written in Egypt in the first few centuries of the Common Era by various members of a religious movement related to, but not identical with, the Gnostics.

Casaubon’s essay was followed in short order by the scientific revolution, and by the huge change in intellectual fashions that swept away the last embers of the Renaissance and replaced them with the rationalist materialism that eventually gave us the modern western worldview. Most of the people who kept practicing magic, as already mentioned, were rural cunning folk whose magical resources were usually limited to a couple of printed books from the end of the Renaissance—Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, for example, was one of the standard texts for British and American folk magicians straight through into the nineteenth century—and a handwritten recipe book for things they’d learned themselves or gotten from other practitioners. Not many of them seemed to care much about Egypt, much less the Corpus Hermeticum.

Those secretive occult lodges I mentioned earlier, though, were another matter. That was the great seedbed of occult history, because one of the core ingredients of any lodge—magical, fraternal, or what have you—is narrative. Just as Freemasons built their rituals around the story of the construction of King Solomon’s temple, the early magical lodges found their own stories to use as foundations for ritual. The rise, fall, and survival of the Knights Templar was a huge favorite; so was the curious set of stories surrounding the Rosicrucians, a supposed body of medieval mystics; and there were others—more and more of them as the years passed and magical lodges bred like bunnies.

Egypt had to wait a little while, but it returned with a splash due to the ingenious Antoine Court de Gebelin, who published a sprawling nine-volume opus on ancient Egypt beginning in 1773. Those of my readers who know the history of Egyptology will remember that in 1773 nobody on the planet could read a single word of ancient Egyptian, but this didn’t slow down Court de Gebelin at all.  He simply gathered together every scrap of evidence he could find from Greek and Roman sources, and filled in the myriad blanks with his own vivid imagination. He’s the guy who decided that the Tarot cards came from ancient Egypt (they didn’t; they were invented in 1418 by an Italian named Marziano da Tortona), and that the word “Tarot” itself came from the ancient Egyptian words tar rosh, “royal road.” (“Royal road” in ancient Egyptian is w3t nsw—the 3 is a glottal stop like the Hebrew letter Aleph—and if you’d like to extract tar rosh from that, you’re welcome to try.)

So all at once the Egypt of the Renaissance imagination burst back on the scene. Sometime, when you’re in the mood for occult nostalgia, take in a performance of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, which is all about the conflict between Catholic orthodoxy (represented by the Queen of the Night) and the occult wisdom of Egypt (represented by the sage Sarastro). This is particularly nostalgic for those of us who’ve been trained in the occult system of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which uses the same lush mix of Egyptian decor, Greek philosophical mysticism, and Jewish and Christian symbolism you’ll find in the Magic Flute, or for that matter all over the more colorful corners of Freemasonry, which was where Mozart got it in the first place.

By the time the Golden Dawn got in on the act—it was founded in 1887—the luminous Egypt of the Renaissance was getting distinctly down at the heels from age, though this didn’t keep other magical orders from borrowing it thereafter. There was also the little problem that by 1887, scholars knew a fair amount about ancient Egypt, and each deciphered papyrus and wall inscription put distance between the impressive but distinctly down-to-earth realities of the Egypt of the pharaohs and the shining image of an Egypt that never was. The Templars and the Rosicrucians still had their followings—the Golden Dawn claimed Rosicrucian origins, for example—but there was a growing demand for something new and thrilling. That demand, in turn, was met by the inimitable Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

We could spend a long time talking about Blavatsky’s astonishing career, and sooner or later she’s probably going to get a post of her own. Though she wrote plenty of other things, her major impact on occultism came through two vast books: Isis Unveiled, published in 1877, and The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888. They’re very different books; Isis Unveiled is an all-out assault on the apparent certainties of the scientific and religious thought of the Victorian era, while The Secret Doctrine claims to present the ultimate spiritual teaching behind every religion and occult tradition, including the real history of the world and humanity—but both of them spend a lot of time talking about Atlantis.

In 1877 Atlantis was little more than a collection of footnotes in Plato, but it served Blavatsky’s purposes well. One of the things she wanted to challenge with Isis Unveiled was the insistence on the part of Victorian intellectuals that evolution equals progress, and that the late nineteenth century industrial world, its ideas, and its social customs were therefore unutterably superior to anything that any other human society had ever had to offer. Her response was to propose that human history was not a straight line but a series of cycles, in each of which civilization had risen up out of savagery and then descended straight back down to it again. The legend of the lost continent of Atlantis, for her, was a lingering memory of the last cycle before ours, and Isis Unveiled also discussed a cycle even before that—the age of Lemuria.

Lemuria? That’s what biologist Philip Sclater in 1870 called a hypothetical land bridge connecting southern India and eastern Africa. This was back in the days when continental drift was still crackpot pseudoscience, remember, and so scientists had to cook up any number of land bridges to get plants and animals from one continent to another at various points during prehistory. The distribution of lemur fossils inspired Sclater’s land bridge, thus the name, but Blavatsky wasn’t going to let that get in her way. Lemuria duly began its career as a lost continent from the age long before, in Robert E. Howard’s less than felicitous phrase, “the oceans drank Atlantis.” (I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’ve always wondered how the continent got liquefied—you don’t drink solids, after all…)

Meanwhile, between the publication of Blavatsky’s two great books, Atlantis suddenly stopped being a footnote to Plato and became a cultural presence in its own right. This was the work of the astonishing figure of Ignatius Donnelly, a fire-breathing radical Democrat who served four terms in the US House of Representatives and then took up a second career as America’s first bestselling author of alternative history. Atlantis: The Antediluvian World first appeared in 1882, and ran through more than fifty printings; it’s still in print today, and you’ll have a hard time finding a book on Atlantis anywhere these days that doesn’t directly or indirectly reference it.

You’ll have an even harder time, though, finding a book on Atlantis anywhere these days that doesn’t indirectly reference Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine—next to none of them cite it directly, but that doesn’t matter. Blavatsky picked up all of Donelly’s ideas and ran with them, turning the fall of Atlantis into a morality play in which the Atlanteans brought about their own destruction by dabbling in evil magic, and a small remnant who hadn’t fallen into evil ways fled the doomed continent before its destruction. You won’t find that in Plato; you won’t find that in Donnelly—but once it found its way into Blavatsky’s sprawling epic, it was everywhere.

That’s true even when the authors in question had no interest at all in Theosophy.  Many of my readers will doubtless recall J.R.R. Tolkien’s references to Numenor, the drowned continent of Middle-Earth, which went under as a result of exactly the sequence of events I’ve described. Tolkien was a devout and highly conservative Catholic, and yet his Atlantis—Numenor is called Atalante in Elvish, in case you needed the hint—is Blavatsky’s Atlantis in all but name. I’m not sure if he got it by way of the pulp fantasy fiction he and his friend C.S. Lewis read voraciously, or if he actually took the time to read one of the popularizations of Blavatsky’s story—William Scott-Elliot’s The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria was widely available, for example—but one way or another, the connection is there.

Atlantis, Lemuria, and the other vanished continents of Blavatsky’s vision were all over occultism by the time the Theosophical Century drew to a close. Even when covens of goddess-worshipping witches preserving secret lore from ancient Utopian matriarchies became more popular than turbaned sages preserving secret lore from an assortment of drowned continents, the Atlantis link survived for a while—I’ve been told by more than one elderly Wiccan that among the oral teachings passed around in various Wiccan circles in the 1980s was the claim that Minoan Crete had been the real Atlantis, that Wicca had originated there, and that Wiccans therefore were passing on the secret lore of lost Atlantis.

Nor has there been any shortage of other alternative histories for occultists and neopagans who have an interest in such things. The ornate lineages by which various old-fashioned Druid orders have tried to claim descent from the ancient Druids, while their roots were by and large about as stable as those of Birnam Wood, are classics of the type—and here again, if you poke around in the right places, you can find claims that the Druids, too, preserve mystical secrets from ancient Egypt and lost Atlantis.

All in all, the panoply of manufactured histories is reminiscent of nothing so much as the kind of magic lantern show the Victorians loved, in which brightly colored images were projected onto any convenient blank wall for the entertainment of those present. It’s a great source of fantasy fiction—and in fact most of the English-language fantasy fiction of the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz through Robert E. Howard’s assorted barbarian heroes to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings were heavily influenced by Theosophy’s version of occult history—but as a guide to what actually seems to have happened in the past, well, let’s just say that it makes great fantasy fiction.

Does that mean that there’s nothing to occult history but a resource for storytellers? Not at all. In next month’s post, we’ll look at occult history from a different angle, and talk about why it’s important and how it’s used as part of the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.

85 Comments

  1. Minor quibble: Constantinople fell in 1453, not 52.

    Blavatsky wrote about cyclic civilizational collapse and rebirth. Do you know if she borrowed anything from Polybius' theory of Anacyclosis?

  2. Lets not forget that a bloke named John Michael Greer wrote a book called “Atlantis, ancient legacy hidden prophecy ” in 2007 which explores all this in great detail.
    The urgent desire to confer legitimacy upon the group or order by claiming links to a highly idealised or even fictional past does indeed come across as somewhat reactionary , so Evola is an appropriate mention here . Reactionary and Reification go hand in hand ,i suppose , and is one of the various potential pitfalls of magic.
    I took your advice and read the epic of Gilgamesh recently , and was shocked to see that it was the tale of Noah and the Biblcal flood almost word for word, albeit written several thousand years prior to the bible , so the Christians themselves are no stranger to drowned lands .
    Wonder what the connection to George RR Martins ” Drowned God ” is. Of course this reminds me of your blog post in recent times of young kids dreaming of a drowned blue Sea Goddess. All very immanently imminent it seems , as the various ice sheets crash into the ocean .
    Cheers

  3. Daniel, you're right, of course. As to whether Blavatsky was referencing anacyclosis, heck of a good question — ideas of cyclical history were in circulation all through the 19th century, so she could have gotten it from any number of sources.

    Kutamun, well, Middle Eastern flood legends are all pretty much alike, you know. 😉

    Avalterra, so noted!

  4. in Robert E. Howard’s less than felicitous phrase, “the oceans drank Atlantis.”

    It may be less than felicitous, but it keeps a consistent meter, three iambs and a hanging foot like Aegeus' wineskin: “the Oceans DRANK atLANtis”. Your look-alike and fellow magician Alan Moore understands the power of iambic.

  5. Neo, there are hundreds of other ways to say the same thing in a subject-appropriate meter that don't rate a “say what?”, you know. That said, I generally enjoy Howard's prose — in particular, the guy could write a fight scene like nobody else living or dead. (It probaby helps that he was a capable amateur boxer — but then, to my taste, his Sailor Steve Costigan stories deserve much more applause than they've generally gotten.)

  6. JMG and all,

    Ever since reading about Doggerland, the landmass under the North Sea that has been exposed during major glacial periods, I cannot help but toy with it as a possible Atlantis origin. Regardless, it was a large and fertile area for thousands of years… so many relics lurking among the capped oil wells. There are some nice time progression images out there showing how the land shrunk to what is now Doggerbank, a shallow area of the sea, over the course of a few millenia.

    Its worth the minute to check it out if you're unfamiliar (to all).

    My best,
    Callum

  7. Great post! I am far from a historian, but I wonder if most interpretations of Abrahamic religions insistence to take myth literally as historical fact has to do with historical occult lodges and Neopagans needing to take their history as factual and ancient.
    As far as using magic to worship God, I’ve never seen a Catholic Mass, but isn’t the Catholic Mass itself and transubstantiation a magical way to worship God for Catholics? Or at least convey a sacred mystery? Or did Renaissance era Christians not view it as such?
    One of the first and greatest things occult study gave me was an appreciation of being able to value myth greatly without it having to be factual.
    BTW, this post reminded me of your ADR post a while back, http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2015/04/atlantis-wont-sink-experts-agree.html
    I know it’s satire, but a great retelling for our times of what I think you are talking about Blavatsky getting at.

  8. JMG wrote, “the ancient Greek goetes and magoi who first fused bits of Greek philosophy and myth with the magical techniques of Egypt and Babylon.”

    I'd appreciate if JMG or anyone else might suggest a good book or books that further discuss the activities and perspectives of the aforementioned ancient Greek goetes and magoi.

    Thanks,

    Pierre

  9. Fascinating stuff! I haven't studied enough theosophy, though I have been trying to slowly acquire more and more of the foundation books of western occultism. I just recently found Frazer's The Golden Bough in a used book store. It's a better source for the origin of Wicca, after all! The proprietess told me that it had been bought from her and returned for store credit 3 times already. I told her she wouldn't get it back this time. 🙂

    I really try not to acquire stuff, because I feel like it adds to our civilization's problems, but my occult library is my greatest weakness!

  10. I've long thought (in a very campbell-esque reading) that the myth of Atlantis is very much about the people who tell the story, that is, Americans and similarly technological western cultures. A cautionary tale, if you will. The development and embellishments of the story, especially post-Edgar Cayce, seem to reflect both the technology and moral failures of the time projected into the distant past. On the other hand, Cayce specifically stated that most Americans had Atlantean past lives. Note that these two perspectives are not mutually exclusive…

  11. Callum, yes, I've read about Doggerland! During the immediate aftermath of the last ice age, much of the North Sea was above water, the English Channel didn't exist, and the Thames flowed into the Rhine before the combined stream flowed into the ocean. It's not accidental that so many old legends from the Celtic lands talk about vast floods and drowned lands; old Welsh maps still show the “drowned cantrefs,” large tracts of land that were still above water in the Dark Ages.

    Dean, of course that's a factor. The insistence of the Abrahamic religions that every last detail of their founding narratives had to be taken literally as historical fact came first, of course, and helped color the entire worldview of the early modern world — I suspect that much of modern science depends, without admitting it, on the conviction that a narrative can only be meaningful if it's historically true in the most pigheadedly literal sense.

    William, Peter Kingsley's Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic is one of the few sources I know of — though I'd be delighted if any of my readers can suggest anything else.

    Jessi, I share the same weakness. 😉 When you finish with Frazer, you might want to find a copy of Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance, which traces the Grail legend to a fertility cult along the lines Frazer sketched out. It's highly readable, and very useful!

    Berserker, not mutually exclusive at all. There's a good reason why that particular myth came surging up out of the shadows to seize the imagination of the modern world. I'd point out, for example, that it was fourteen years after Donnelly published his book that Svante Arrhenius first predicted that CO2 pollution in the atmosphere could cause global climate change…

  12. Here's my own personal reaction to the various wild occult histories I've encountered by way of a parable:

    I have a friend of mine whom I consider a type of natural witch and who claims that Isis is incarnate in her. She is constantly telling me things which I do not consider necessarily “true” in the common sense of the word truth. For instance, she went on a one day visit to Rome where she claims to have had a secret audience with the Pope, but invokes “Le Secret du Vatican” if I ask her anything about it. I cannot know for a fact that what she is telling me is true or not of course, and she did in fact go to Rome on a one day trip. She most certainly had some sort of profound religious/spiritual experience while she was there. Is what she claims actually untrue in another sense of the truth? In the same sense of the truth which we find in all great fiction.

  13. @William McGillis

    You might enjoy The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind Morrow. I find it fascinating. It's speaks of the religious philosophy of the ancient Egyptians. As she writes, the Pyramid Texts seek “the magical key, the pattern that lies beyond form, the invisible, eternal structure of life.”

    Not exactly about the ancient Greek goetes and magoi themselves, but may point to the ideas they might have been familiar with.

  14. “occultists got along just fine with the same version of history their more conventional neighbors believed in.”

    And thus, presumably, could do so today. That could significantly rearrange some bookshelves. Might even allow actual magic to come out of the closet a bit. Depends, I suppose, on how important it is to be marginal.

  15. William: There has been a fair bit of scholarship on ancient Greek magic of various sorts, if one wants to work through it. Robert can probably point us toward some of it. It can be worth diving directly into a good translation of a primary source like Iamblichus.

    I shall have to look up Kingsley myself.

    As JMG has pointed out previously, the results of invoking deities that one does not actually believe in may not be particularly productive. Still, interesting.

  16. My reaction to the occult scene years ago was just like you described it: what on earth does all this weird “alternative history” stuff got to do with anything?! It seems strange to me that a spiritual message is so dependent on certain “hard”, physical, archaeological or historical facts. The best way to disprove Theosophy then becomes to disprove Atlantis (and to disprove Masonry, you disprove their Templar legends, etc). And then what? What´s left? Real spirituality should be about the Spirit, which is ever accessible – if it exists at all.

    It could be a subconscious Christian or even Protestant thing, this obsession with super-literal facts (“Jesus really did preach at Capernaum in AD 29, exactly. It was late fall, too”). Perhaps it´s also a scientific thing. 19th century science traded in absolute facts, so perhaps this is a way of trumping that? Note also the “sensational manuscript finds” alt-historians love to cite as evidence. They can be connected both to the Protestant attitude (“this literally proves that the primitive Church wasn´t Catholic”) or to the scientific spirit (archaeology) or to the popularized version of the scientist as 19th century explorer (romantic digs in the desert, being chased by nomads, etc).

    Tied up with alt-history, spirituality takes the back seat, and everything becomes a conflict between Internet skeptics and Internet conspiracy theorists. Where is the Spirit in all this?

    OK, end of Sunday sermon, LOL.

    Which doesn´t mean alt-history isn´t interesting. I became a “moderate Atlanto-maniac” after reading your book on Atlantis, and there´s probably more where that came from. Sundaland, anyone? However, just as with other alt-subjects, ranging from UFOs to crypto-zoology, it´s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most seems to be chaff mixed with ergot…

  17. William, you might find Garth Fowden's
    “The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind” an interesting take. He's pulling together much more recent scholarship than Cassaubon and makes a case for the Egyptian influence to be put back into Hermes, albeit in a less simplistic way.

    From:http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5205.html

    “Starting from the complex fusions and tensions that molded Graeco-Egyptian culture, and in particular Hermetism, during the centuries after Alexander, Garth Fowden goes on to argue that the technical and philosophical Hermetica, apparently so different, might be seen as aspects of a single “way of Hermes.” This assumption that philosophy and religion, even cult, bring one eventually to the same goal was typically late antique, and guaranteed the Hermetica a far-flung readership, even among Christians. The focus and conclusion of this study is an assault on the problem of the social milieu of Hermetism.”

    MCB

  18. Poor koine Greek! How about “streamlined” rather than mutant? It could be considered the Swahili of the ancient Mediterranean world.

    As to Atlantis, I've often fancied that perhaps it's a tale of the future rather than of the past. However, that would be perpetuating the Myth of Progress, and we can't have that! The interpretation of Blavatsky trying to buck the fashion of “evolution as progress” is a noble one.

    I adore these explorations of occult history, especially as I frustrated most “elders” I came encountered with my “Yes, but WHY!” challenges. (Actually, you were the first person I encountered–at ECG incidentally–who could actually provide a reason for the switching of the directional associations of Earth and Water in the shift that occurred between Agrippa's writings and the Golden Dawn beyond “the Victorians didn't know what they were doing”.) An understanding of history can add so many layers of subtlety and nuance to an occult practice, I wish more folks would consider its study.

  19. MCB:

    Thrice-Greatest Hermes does get around. The latest thing I've heard on him is a very tentative identification with Eudoxus of Knidos at: http://www.projecthindsight.com/ This is by a gentleman who's spent the last several decades translating and organizing the extant Greek manuscripts on Hellenistic astrology; he's probably single-handedly responsible for the boomlet in that branch of the art.

    JMG:

    It probably says something or other about my background in occult studies that the only thing I've actually read on the “lost civilization” version of “Atlantis” is Mention my Name in Atlantis by John Jakes. I'm not quite sure whether to say it's a high point, a low point, or simply missing the point.

  20. William McGillis/Pierre,

    Magick of the Ancient World by Graf, Magika Heirs by Faraone & Obbink, Magic, both are scholarly works, with studies of the origin of words and found artifacts alongside analysis of documents, or Witchcraft and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds by Ogden, and the Greco-Egyptian Magical Papyri in Translation to read the ancient texts directly. The Egyptian Magical Papyri include the “bornless ritual” which was adapted by aleister Crowley. It's interesting to compare the original to his interpretation. One of my side projects is an adaptation of the Greco Egyptian Magical Papyri to modern neopagan usage. I don't know if I will find a publisher, but I figure it's worth a try. The love spells are the stuff of horror movies: “I bind your eyes so you will go blind until.you come to me. I bind your feet that you will be driven lame until you come to me. You will be driven mad until you come to me.” Not exactly a healthy foundation upon which to build a relationship! These type of spells show a heavy Greek influence, where the Underworld gods were the heavy lifters for spells, you might work the magic on a doll of lead and toss it into a deep abandoned well, for example. There's not a lot of artifacts of this type of magic in Egypt but they are everywhere in Greece. There are a lot of rituals (not for love, of course), that are more relevant today, but it takes a deft hand to adapt them to modern practice. I got these books from a friend who took a class on ancient magick at Bryn mawr. So I got lucky there, they were all free (to a good home lol).

  21. Were the directional associations of Earth & Water switched? I do know Medieval theory considered the phlegmatic type to be Water and the melancholic to be Earth and for the life of me – as a Melancholic myself, alas – I can only see them as Earth (solid like mountain, stolid like ox) and Water (moody and moony and tearful) respectively. I also remember hearing – somewhere – that the Golden Dawn incorporated a deliberate error in the directions in the material that got out of their hands and out into, after many, many steps, Llewellyn Books. It would be interesting to have the facts; my textbook on Magic in the Middle Ages didn't go that far.

  22. You mentioned the Holy Grail in last month's post, and here it is again in the comments. That's a history I'd like to get straight. You write about its symbolic importance in The Druid Magic Handbook, so I'm guessing you've thought through both the history and the alt history.

    I started researching this again in the fall while trying to tease apart the narrative strands in Malory's The Book of Balin, an old favourite of mine. (I eventually decided that, like most of Malory, someone's cat got at the narrative ball of yarn a long time ago, and you have to either glory in the mess of it or pick only one or two threads to unravel, as most modern Arthurian retellings do). The second half of the The Book of Balin gets into explaining how the Waste Land got wasted, as a way of setting up the later adventures of the Grail Quest, so I thought I would follow that thread and see where it led.

    I glanced through From Ritual To Romance and thought the general idea made sense even if I didn't know enough to challenge or confirm the historical links. But then I found that Roger Sherman Loomis puts the whole thing down to a translation error between Welsh and French (corz, the French approximation of a Welsh drinking horn, gets misread as cors, body, specifically the healing body of Christ). That seemed like a dead end, so I left off and went to tease a different ball of yarn.

    Any insights?

  23. I remember being told by my first Wiccan High Priest that the Druids built Stonehenge. “No they didn't” I blurted out. Taken aback he replied, “Who did then?”
    “The Beaker People, so-called because of the shape of their pottery.” Yes, I know they didn't built the whole complex as we see it now. I think I ran into someone later who claimed that obviously the priesthood of the Beaker People had evolved into the Druids and taken over leadership of the Celts once they arrived. Invincible alternate facts.

    I'm currently working my way through the abridged edition of the Golden Bough (all of the blood, none of the footnotes). If Frazer is correct about the sheer numbers of human sacrifices in some cultures I find myself wondering if this was a way to control the population in areas with limited resources.

  24. Hi JMG,

    I suspect the ancient Greeks weren't interested in whether Atlantis was a real place or a larger metaphor was because they were creating – and so it did indeed come straight from the Gods. In latter days they worried about such differences because they were merely building upon the past and so the distinction became important for them. Careers were made and fortunes won…

    That quote from Robert E Howard was quite funny! Thanks, I hadn't come across that one before. There was indeed a land bridge between the mainland of Australia and the island state of Tasmania and the strait in-between is a very rough patch of water – one of the worst on the planet – and also very shallow – only averaging I believe about 30m (100ft).

    The Mabinogion mentioned that dabbling in magic and the subsequent rising of the waters in Ireland, but maybe I fail to accurately recall that tale. It has been a while since last I read it. I thought that it may have referred to a tsunami.

    Cheers

    Chris

  25. “in Robert E. Howard’s less than felicitous phrase, 'the oceans drank Atlantis.'”

    I wonder if Robert E. Howard was sitting at his desk when he wrote that and was torn between using some sort of synonym to the verb “consume” that would normally not be used to describe such an event, and decided that “drank” was a completely unique, strange, and inappropriate usage of the word and therefore was a perfect choice. It also conjures images of an ocean wholly singular and alive, with a terrible conscious will all its own.

  26. A very interesting post, Mr Greer, thank you. I thought that I might add a bit of color to the idea that the occult can exist quite well without alternate history: the quite-out-of-the-mainstream religious tradition I belong to was begun by an erstwhile Wiccan who became disillusioned with his tradition when he discovered that Wicca was not, in fact, the “old religion” of his English forebears as he had been taught, and then set about to discover what their religion actually was. So, in some instances at least, the sundering of occult/alternative religious traditions from alternate history can be quite fruitful.

    Also, if I may offer an inconsequential quibble as a linguist who cut his teeth on Tolkien: “Numenor” is an Elvish term (Númenórë = “West-Land”); “Atalantë” means “Downfallen”, as an alternate name for the same place.

  27. I think it's important to note that Blavatsky, while certainly in possession of a number of “occult powers”, also used her well developed powers of leg pulling to get people in mindset she wanted in order to test and teach them. I rather love that the Old Gal is likely winking at me as I slog through The Secret Doctrine, and I hope she doesn't mind, from her perch on the Devachanic Plane, that I occasionally wink back. I think we are only beginning to figure her out, and likely never will fully, but dang her imagery is evocative.

  28. Mark, that's a useful approach in many cases. There's a lot of occult history that makes sense when read as parable or teaching story.

    Brother G., square on target! The desire to be marginal is a major factor in some corners of the occult scene, and has been for a long time. Marginal subcultures attract those who want to be marginalized, though they can also attract others, to be sure.

    Tidlösa, “chaff mixed with ergot” — now that's a keeper! Yes, I think you're quite right that there's a big dollop of wanting to one-up science all through every kind of religious and occult literalism. Mind you, there can be literal facts mixed up in the high strangeness — but we'll discuss that next month.

    Shark, a good point. I need to reread the books first, though; it's been a while.

    Catriona, maybe it's just my generation, but “mutant” sounds to me like a bit of a compliment. Think of it as a Darwinian variation that turned out to be adaptive.

    John, hah! Conax the Chimerical has a place on my bookshelf, too.

    Patricia, in medieval and Renaissance texts, earth was assigned to the west and autumn, and water to the north and winter. The Golden Dawn switched these to correspond to the symbolism of the winds — it actually says as much in one of the GD lectures — so that it would correspond to the Hindu tattwa cycle, akasha (spirit) to vayu (air) to tejas (fire) to apas (water) to prithivi (earth). There's quite a bit of complexity in the assignment of elements to quarters in ritual — do you want a static opposition between opposed elements (air in east vs. earth in west), or do you want something that flows in a cycle — and if so, where do you start and where do you finish? All these points have to be considered when you're constructing a ritual system.

    Dylan, Viktor Frankl used to say that these days, nihilism isn't a matter of nothingness, but of nothing-but-ness. When you encounter any claim that this or that body of myth is “nothing but” a typo, or a sexual symbol, or a solar myth, or what have you, I encourage you to roll your eyes and read something else.

    Rita, oh, I know. I used to have to deal with that sort of thing all the time when I was doing the Grand Archdruid thing. I've considered claiming that a bunch of English Druids from the late 1960s hallucinated their way back to the Neolithic and convinced the locals to build Stonehenge just to mess with the archeologists. It seems as convincing as any other explanation! 😉

    Cherokee, it probably did refer to a tsunami. The end of the last ice age saw gargantuan tsunamis all over the northern Atlantic basin, as the melting ice destabilized debris masses on the sea floor. I've hypothesized that the end of the ice age civilization we dimly remember as “Atlantis” was also caused by a tsunami — and of course that's kind of unnerving just now, as Greenland and Antarctica are both moving into the conditions that can send hundred-foot-high walls of water smashing into any seacoast within a few thousand miles…

    Dan, quite possibly so. The house style of Weird Tales magazine reveled in odd uses of the language (cough, cough, H.P. Lovecraft, cough, cough).

  29. Hildiwulf, no argument there. One of the things that's benefited the Druid Revival tradition most in recent years, similarly, is coming to terms with the fact that we're not descended from the ancient Druids — au contraire, we're the lineal successors of a bunch of Welsh and English eccentrics who responded to the coming of the industrial revolution by adopting what was known of the old Druids as the basis for a religion of nature. It's made the tradition a lot less pompous and a lot more lively — and of course it's also helped straighten out communications with those people who actually are trying to chase down the archaic traditions of pre-Christian Celtic spirituality.

    Clinton, you'll hear no argument from me. I'll be talking at length next month about what I think HPB was trying to do with the monumental narrative of The Secret Doctrine, and why it's important.

  30. Rita,
    ” If Frazer is correct about the sheer numbers of human sacrifices in some cultures I find myself wondering if this was a way to control the population in areas with limited resources.”

    Haven't gotten very far into Frazer yet, but I have often wondered the same thing, myself.

  31. Occult history is a topic of fascination to me, and I have a lot to say on the subject as well, but first, an aside about Tolkien:

    While Tolkien would have undoubtably thought Theosophy and occultism to be a load of poppycock, I have a suspicion that in his 60 year process of building his legendarium, he probably did read a few related works – maybe Blavatsky, though given his mileau, interests and the company he kept (his interests were purely Western), Steiner or G.R.S. Mead seem much more likely to me. The Silmarillion and the whole Tolkien legendarium is stuffed to the gills with Neoplatonism, and it's filled with linguistic and esoteric gems which, given the care he put into building everything, I highly doubt are coincidental- as he sometimes said he was trying to build a “new English mythology”- a pre-Christian (but anticipatory) reading of the antidiluvian world from the perspective of Christian Dark Ages Britain.

    For just one example of Tolkien's esotericism, take the example of the origin story of the Dwarves, his mythical stand-in for the Jews. The Khazad (note the similarity to Khazars – the suspected and suspect origin story of the Ashkenazi) were created by Aule, the Maker. While he's often associated with gods like Haephestus, it seems to me that what he's getting at here, looking at the name, is Iao – the Demiurgos (half-creator, “half-maker”). An old Gnostic slur was that the Jews were the minions of the Demiurge, the subcreator, and not the true God – Tolkien took this myth and “superverted” it, making them a “chosen people” of this subcreator – one of the good guys – who, after the Great End comes, will be resurrected to participate in the rebuilding of creation (Tikkun Olam!)

    There are many other examples of this sort of subverted/superverted theism found throughout, but this is the one that sticks out the most.

  32. This exploration of manufactured histories brings to mind just how easy, as well as constant, this process happens in all things. It is very alluring, and perhaps normal, to idealize the past while creating tenuous connections to that past in order to create a sense of legitimacy and even ultimate destiny for a particular way of life or point of view. And what are we but a story telling species, always crafting cohesive and coherent narratives that attempt to explain our perceptions of reality and what they possibly mean? And it can be a daunting challenge to get to the root of what those stories are really trying to represent, and not end up taking them at face value, especially when stories can represent multiple things that may not necessarily be related.

    It can also be extremely easy to willfully misrepresent something, which it seems many people right now are all too ready to do in order to fit their particular world view. For example, it seems people really want to intentionally misinterpret what you wrote on your latest essay over on your other blog. I don't think I have ever seen you have to rebuke so many people before, especially those who have been longtime readers. It really does help to have read your previous work to get a sense of what you are trying to say and put it into the greater context of your overall narrative, and I think some people should know better (that might be wishful thinking.)

  33. Helena Blavatsky, according to a reminiscence from one of her sisters, exhibited at least one remarkable talent even in her girlhood. One day the children were all sitting outdoors on the grass in the family estate, looking out over the endless Russian steppe. Then Helena began to talk about how that land-mass would have appeared thousands and thousands of years ago, when the dinosaurs ruled the earth and the ocean. As she continued talking, so her sister reported, she and her other siblings became *wholly unable* to see the steppe as it was, but only saw (and heard and smelt) the ancient ocean of Helena's story and its saurian life. Any child can tell a story, but it is rare child, indeed, who has figured out how to use her words and voice to make that story wholly override the input of all her hearers' sense-organs so completely. HPB undoubtedly had mastered the so-called “arts of deception,” and used them to her own advantage; but there was a great deal more to her than that, and some of what she could do would strike most people as supernatural.

  34. Manjusri, that's fascinating. I've noted a lot of parallels between Tolkien's work and those dimensions of Gnosticism that were tolerably well known before the Nag Hammadi manuscripts were published — elves, humans, and orcs respectively filling the roles of pneumatic, psychic, and hylic souls, for example — but I hadn't thought of the Dwarves in the context you've suggested. With regard to Tolkien's Atlantis myth, I wonder if he read Lewis Spence's books on the subject, which were based on Theosophy without having the brand name all over them — or alternatively if he got the details from the many appearances of the Blavatskian Atlantis in the pulp fantasy and science fiction he read voraciously.

    Dan, that's a very good point. (And yes, I've been watching with some dismay how readily people on the other blog have been trying to force my words into their Procrustean narratives.)

    Robert, fascinating. I hadn't heard that story, but it doesn't surprise me at all — Blavatsky was an extraordinarily gifted individual, and as I'll show next month, the fact that her occult history isn't factual doesn't make it less important or relevant; au contraire, she was trying to do something of immense importance, and to some extent succeeded. More in due time!

  35. As you say, JMG, Blavatsky was indeed “an extraordinarily gifted individual,” and I have enormous respect for her abilities and what she was trying to do. It was also no mean feat for her to make her mark on the world from within the United States by writing in English, when she had never before lived for very long in any country where English was the common language.

    As Muriel Ruckeyser once wrote, “The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” HPB seems to have groked that even as a child.

  36. Ah yes, The Magic Flute. When my daughter was five, her favourite movie on DVD was the version Ingmar Bergman did in the 1970s for Swedish TV – truly, exquisitely, high-class family viewing. It's sung in Swedish and our version had French subtitles, so I had to explain the plot a bit, but once she got the idea she wanted to watch it again and again – I had to ration it.

    I bought it for the Mozart rather than the Masonry, but I'm looking forward to discussing Egypt and the Enlightenment with her when she's a bit older. But first she will have to extricate herself from the grip of her coercive-controlling (and Catholic) mother – thus does life imitate art.

    I found Sarastro a bit creepy though – Tolkien's Saruman sounds like a mixture of Sarastro and Solomon, wisdom misapplied. There's a scene in the opera where the three boy-spirits descend in their balloon to dissuade Pamina from suicide, but first they sing about the new dawn that is coming, when the wise man will make the earth a heavenly kingdom and men will become as gods. To me it has more than a little of 'Man, the Conqueror of Nature' whose obituary you wrote on your other blog…

    Alan (commenting as 'bicosse' on the other blog).

  37. JMG
    For personal reasons I have been enjoying stories by Gwynfor Evans (Plaid Cymru) sadly no longer with us, of historic places in the Welsh landscape with excellent photographs. Evans was a Christian , pacifist, Nationalist politician. The English do not know this 'alternative' history.

    I am curious whether Druidry relates with Eisteddfod, which I know is much much to do with language, history and national identity, but much taken up with Druid revival – and very, very, respectable. http://www.britishpathe.com/video/the-prince-of-wales-in-pontypool-aka-the-prince/query/Eisteddfod

    best
    Phil

  38. Ah yes, The Magic Flute.

    Marion Zimmer Bradley, major grand opera fan, whose Fall of Atlantis, written when she was 19, which IIRC, is straight-up Blavatsky, much later tossed off a novelization of the Magic Flute*] set in that same universe, with Papageno & Papagena et. al being uplisted animals a la Cordwainer Smith and David Brin – and the one, only thing that would justify Sarastro having any claim on Princess Pamina at all. She cast them as the girl's divorced parents, on opposite sides of the Atlantean political/moral fence.

    [http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1086454.Night_s_Daughter

    I need to revisit the Mozart.

  39. @JMG: Fascinating, Blavatsky is an area I've not read in any depth. I really should. Thank you.

    Don't Earthquakes cause liquefaction which result in the earth's surface swallowing surface features and raising/lowering land masses ? Although perhaps that would be solids drinking the oceans 😁😁

    IIRC around 12k years ago the sea levels were something like 40-50m lower.

    That leads me to the effects of cataclysmic events ( meteors/asteroid ) with ( sudden sea level changes, tsunamis, and earthquakes ). The investigative researcher Graham Hancock (GH) has some interesting things to say about the evidence for prior civilisations & prior cataclysms relating to the 700 or so Flood myths to be found around the world dating back to the period of the Younger Dryas some ~12k years ago.

    Some of the archaeological & geological evidence has started to come to light in the last 20 years in places like the “Göbekli Tepe” ( https://grahamhancock.com/collinsa3/ ) in Turkey and “Gunung Padang” in Indonesia ( https://grahamhancock.com/gunung-padang-latest-hancock/ ), the creation of the Scablands ( ref: Randall Carson ) in North America, Nano-Diamond particles from North America over to Near Turkey and Piri Reis Maps ( and more ).

    Regardless of GH's personal linking theory ( which has its detractors ) the evidence itself is interesting. What is also interesting is the degree of resistance to exploring that evidence. Seems to rock some established boats. 3 of his books are linked on the theme of prior civilisations “Fingerprints of the Gods' ( originally vilified but to a certain extent significantly validated ), “Underworld”, and recently “Magicians of the Gods” which is a major update on Fingerprints. I've attended a couple of his public presentations and the evidence to-date is intriguing.

    He also hosts other writers and you might find this one by Dan Crisp on Atlantis might be interesting: https://grahamhancock.com/crispdanatlantis/ – I'm not up on the Atlantis side of things myself. I mainly focussed on Graham's two parallel interests Ancient Civilisations and Consciousness.

    No doubt you have consumed original materials in your own research given your linguistic skills. I didn't do classical languages ( greek, latin etc ) so rely somewhat upon others works. I was intrigued by the contents of The Secret History of the World and The Sacred History of the World but cannot speak to the veracity of the contents. Still I rather liked the format of retelling alleged historical world events through a lens incorporating information from various secret societies going back to the gnostics and before IIRC. Q) I wondered what you might yourself recommend?

    Q) Oh, I emailed you last week via aodb [ and they replied saying they would forward it ] about some of your books, would you prefer me to re-ask via a non-posting comment or should I await an email response ? You did give an email address to someone via that route in one of your past comments and I reused it but perhaps I should have similarly asked first.

    Q) Also, I have asked a question or two on this blog but on recent posts as the questions were about those topics. Is it better for you if I re-ask the questions on this post even though they do not directly relate to this topic?

    I look forwards to next months post. Sounds intriguing. Thanks again.

  40. Manjusri and JMG:

    Joscelyn Godwin has a great essay on Tolkien and the esoteric elements of his thought in which points out there are very strong Gnostic elements in Tolkien's Middle East stories.

  41. I recently watched an episode of the Inspector Lewis series from Gt. Britain on our local public station. So it's probably several years old. But it featured a Christian cult based on the theology of Charles Williams, the lesser known of the Inklings (Tolkien and C.S. Lewis being the better known). In the TV show the cult members believed in being able to take on the burden of one another's sins, and the plot revolved around an outsider avenging an unpunished vehicular homicide. I thought it was interesting that a television writer would hit on such on obscure set of beliefs as a plot device. Is anyone familiar with any actual Christian groups using these concepts? Just curious.

  42. Robert, no argument at all. Blavatsky's a role model from whom any aspiring occultist could learn a very great deal.

    Alan, oh, granted. I've sometimes thought of doing a rewrite of the story of The Magic Flute in which Sarastro and the Queen represent the two poles of an unresolved binary, which Pamina and Tamino succeed in resolving.

    Phil, I have an old cartoon guide to basic Welsh; there's an apartment inside (with all the features labeled) with an Gwynfor Evans poster on the wall. As for Druidry and the Eisteddfodau, very much so — the Welsh end of the Druid Revival spawned that force of nature, Iolo Morganwg, who talked poets and their patrons all over Wales into adopting his Bardic rituals and symbolism for their meetings, and since then the Druid scene in Wales has been very deeply entwined with Welsh cultural and linguistic nationalism.

    Patricia, yes, I've read it. Interesting though, to my mind, not her best work by a long shot.

    DoubtingThomas, it's been a long time since I've kept up on the alternative-history scene — I probably need to remedy that one of these days. Hancock struck me as a very mixed bag — some of his stuff is excellent, some of it, well, too gullible for my taste. (The origins of the channeled scablands in northwestern North America, for example, are well known and require no exotic mechanism — meltwater floods from the last round of ice sheets are more than adequate.) Go ahead and drop me your email address in a not-for-posting comment; I'm way behind on email so it may be a bit before I get to it, but I'll try not to be too dilatory. As for the other questions, sure, post them — this blog gets enough fewer comments that I can be more flexible on off topic comments.

    Armata, thanks for this!

    Rita, yep. It's called the Companions of the Coinherence, it was founded by Williams, and as far as I know it's still around in a small way. If you look it up online under that title you'll find some documentation.

  43. I've read that there are seeds that wait in the soil for hundreds or thousands of years before the soil and climatic conditions change to allow them to sprout and flourish. Looking inwardly there clearly are inner potentials that will only sprout and flourish when the right story storms the psyche. Thus, the power of a story isn't its origin “out there” but rather the shifts and transformations it produces “in here.”

    Every major change in my life was preceded by a myth. My very flesh is made of myth, those of my culture and family and those of my own impulsion. The origin of these myths seem secondary to the utter reality that they manifest in my living body.

  44. I am definitely interested in seeing your next month's post on the usefulness of alternate history. While it's very easy for me to connect with symbolic narratives of the sort you find in myth and legend, and while it is fun to speculate on all of the rich history and culture, and possibly even the lost and forgotten civilizations that rose and fell over the quarter of a million years between the first humans and the start of recorded history, alternate histories taken at face value as fact is something that feels very much to me like getting lost in a narrative to the point that the purpose of the narrative is lost, and I meet far too many people getting so lost on quixotic quests that they never bother to look within for the things they’re seeking.

    Last month you briefly discussed the way that the occult sometimes catches multiple thinly related or unrelated elements of the fringe simply by virtue of their being rejected knowledge… Of these, some of those are useful, some silly but harmless, and some actively dangerous. The thread of thought led me to reflect on some trends I’ve been noticing in fringe and alternate communities these past few years… in which they have all started to become flattened out to resemble each other more and more… often adopting some of the exact same world narratives, even the same slang… and, as of this year, something of a hero worship of Donald Trump. David Icke is a good example, since he falls into the New Age Guru fringe category that bumps shoulders with a lot of the same ideas you see in the occult world from time to time. He latched onto Trump with an exact parroting of the populist rhetoric you see on the right wing conspiracy theory sites that orbit infowars (within that same week, there was an open letter to ceremonial magicians to stop doing the LBRP because it empowers the Zionist New World Order, which shows a similar overlap of ideas from all over the place).

    A passion for alternate histories (and in the case of groups like the Flat-earthers, alternate geologies), has also popped up across the board, and more often than not, when I encounter someone whose view of history includes ancient aliens and Atlantean crystal priests, some mix of ideas from various corners of that fringe underbelly emerges… and as I see more and more of those ideas trickle into communities that I belong to, I keep asking myself, what is going on? On one hand, you do see bits and pieces of occult and new age practices mingling into all of these, which means that at least some portion of each of those communities is engaging in some amount of meditation, visualization, ritual… but there’s also the curious bit in which all of these groups are in their own ways reflecting emerging thought forms that are becoming dominant in our time (for instance David Icke’s parroting the rhetoric of the populist movement surrounding Donald Trump), and seem to on some level be coupled with a psychic current caused by the populist backlash that’s been going on on a global scale as much of our culture’s collective shadow flows out into the light…

    That goes a good deal beyond alternate histories on their own… but I think the observation is more that alternate histories can easily become parts of entire alternative narratives of everything about the world… and that some of those narratives can emerge from the shadows and take on a form of their own, and can even become part of something far more dangerous (recall Nazi Germany’s obsession with Atlantis as a way of proving an Aryan origin for the architectural wonders of America and Africa… which is almost the same type of narrative as the ancient aliens theorists of recent history who use it as the base of a narrative that attempts to prove that those same wonders were built by a civilization who matches contemporary ideals of high technology)… or can lead to madness. When is a certain narrative of history, or of the world, an advantage? And when can it lead down strange and dangerous roads?

  45. It's an extremely astute comment that Eric just made. It puts me in mind of one of the wisest and most profound passages in any of Terry Pratchett's books. This is from _Witches Abroad_:

    “Stories are important.

    “People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.

    “Stories exist independently of their players. If you know that, knowledge is power.

    “Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived, and they have grown fat on the retelling . . . stories, twisting and blowing through the darkness.

    “And their very existence overlays a faint but insistent pattern on the chaos that is history. Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper.

    “This is called the theory of narrative causality and it means that a story, once started, takes a shape. It picks up all the vibrations of all the other workings of that story that have ever been.

    “This is why history keeps repeating all the time. [. . .]

    “Stories don’t care who takes part in them. All that matters is that the story gets told, that the story repeats. Or, if you prefer to think of it like this: stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service only of the story itself.”

  46. My own “magical tradition,” insofar as it constitutes a legitimate anything, is busily romanticizing its own history as going back to the Finno-Korean Hyperwar. Vedic lore about viamana is thrown into a blender with Thule Society ambitions and conspiracies(?) like Operation Highjump to create a patently absurd mythology of primordial Finns and Koreans duking it out above ancient Europe in UFOs. Do you have any insight into what kind of effects that much self-indulgent irony has on magical practice? If Blavatsky was hitting at the Victorian insistence on reducing the world to a bunch of clattering billiard balls, what social expectation might this be hitting at?

  47. @JMG: I agree some of Hancock's earlier stuff was a bit ropey. I find most authors a mixed bag and usually on a learning curve. GH's Fingerprints received a lot of stick 20 years ago. In the 2nd edition he discounted one of his own favoured pieces of evidence but the rest in Fingerprints would appear to have received a decent amount of validation. It was funny when one of the mainstream magazines, Time maybe, ended up publishing a supportive story after having written negatively about it 20yrs before. You'd need to read/listen to Randall Carlson to get a handle on what I meant. The Joe Roegan experience also has joint AV talks with the two of them but they also have their own books. I've watched a few & read a variety of view points on it. The point was that there is evidence in the Scablands and elsewhere of the overarching idea of a Comet Impact on the North American Ice Cap. I vaguely recall that the there was aspects of the formation of the Scablands that the theory answers. There are competing theories for their formation each with its own camp of believers but in this the Scablands and another region (whose name escapes me a present) hundreds of miles apart I think. I'd need to re-watch/re-read to remember.

    I'll post the other questions shortly 🙂

  48. @EricS: Interesting observations. Thank you.

    When is a certain narrative of history, or of the world, an advantage? And when can it lead down strange and dangerous roads?
    – I tend to use a fairly simple first pass barometer. Something like “Does the history storyteller appear to be stuck in fear, selling fear or seeking those who are attracted to fear”.
    – Of course narratives can be both Advantageous to some, Disadvantageous to others and lead to strange and dNgerous roads!

  49. @JMG: Question relating to Divination.

    I have received many divination readings, mainly variations of Tarot, and have always had results I can relate to somehow. On the other hand, Astrology ( and Numerology ) not at all really. I never felt that the natal or cross charts or predictive projections had any relation to me, who or how I was or the events of any given day in hindsight.

    I read somewhere that Astrology doesn't work reliably on people beyond a certain of spiritual development. I wondered what your take was on that ?

  50. @JMG: Correction to previous comment: “There are competing theories for their formation each with its own camp of believers but in this the Scablands and another region (whose name escapes me a present) hundreds of miles apart were supporting roles themselves. I'd need to re-watch/re-read to remember.”

  51. @JMG” Question relating to earlier “How Not to Learn Magic” Post

    You also have to be willing to recognize a pitfall as a pitfall, and avoid the temptation to convince yourself that the dysfunctional emotional state you’ve gotten yourself into isn’t a sign of your own profound spiritual specialness.

    I loved the turn of phrase. I giggled. Would it be fair to compare the pitfall referenced with a lack of appreciation for the benefits of Humility and Willingness to be mistaken?

  52. JMG
    Stories
    Like Robert and D Thomas I find Eric S interesting.
    You have mentioned future historians (happy thought) looking at and noting the catastrophic nature of European expansion round the globe during the build up to and following industrial expansion. So one result; 'our' stories end up one way or another in the USA. (And there is S America.)

    You have likewise mentioned your deep unease at the way Europeans colonised N America and how that will work out. For what it is worth, in my brief periods working in N America I felt it looked more like superstructure imposed on something else. The 'something else' in contrast communicated to me as marvellous – at least in unexpected significant dreams.

    If we take the stories legacy as significant, ‘the inheritance’ makes a poor fit with where you are. I read significant poets Pound and Eliot. Pound in particular wanders the world and just about evokes every civilisation he can reach; his provisional American vernacular culture left 'camped out' it seems to me (in the almost military sense) among your weird woods and etc.

    Here in Britain I have long wondered about a possible 'two tribes'. They seem divided in inheritance. The demarcation seems to be founded on the assumptions and customs (story lines) underlying birth and infant care and the nature of children – chalk and cheese stuff. (I read careful accounts many moons ago of it seemed gently brought up Intuit exposed to the ferocious notions of colonial compulsory schooling. Other ‘aboriginal’ children elsewhere, including Gaelic speakers north of here, were similarly 'colonised'.) I don't think this was a modern development (or 'Christian') or due to the exigencies of life close to poverty, or to population overshoot or necessarily adaptive to survival. The 'division' if I am right, survives here to the present day in the source culture. As we are treated so our brains are formed .

    Other than a generalisation about the plastic response to experience during development, it occurs to me thereby that we cannot generalise too much about 'human nature' based on the examples that emerge from our particular story line. And I am sure there are many other as bad or worse story lines out there in the world and in history. Examples of a 'bad fit' are everywhere. But ‘the marvellous’ might yet lie below our feet and sadly invisible to us (but not to everybody), in the moving air, in the dark and light, both beloved of sentience, both human and non-human.

    The marvellous might be gentler than our stories tell us.

    best
    Phil H

  53. I have a question, which does not in fact relate directly to the month's post, but to a broader topic of utilizing and tweaking various magical systems. Now I know you have advised against this in general, for until one knows what one is doing, one does not know the importance of the details one is about to tweak and to what effect the tweaking is.

    Now, having said that, in the AODA tradition of the circle of protection there appears to be quite a bit of wiggle room. But as I am studying a perhaps more rigid system in your “Celtic Golden Dawn”, I do not wish to mess around and improvise quite so freely. The question I have in mind has to do with the usage of incense.

    My particular situation is that I am quite unable to use it at home due to the fact that the rest of the habitants here do not appreciate the aroma at all (I have tried various products). Despite aggressive ventilation, the aroma seems to stick around quite a bit longer than would be strictly desirable. What is more, the climate here is such that it will be possible to set up an altar outside perhaps for the summer months, if the weather is favorable. Is there something I could use to replace the incense in the ritual?

    The options I have in mind are to simply use the incense but only visualize setting it aflame or to replace it with some steam producing apparatus or a lantern. Optionally I could limit the ritual to those times of the year where it is possible perform it outside and do something else during the rest of the year. None of these seem to be optimal.

    What I am afraid is that this is a situation where I need to abandon the study and practice alltogether due to this particular restraint. I am currently proceeding with the daily ritual and the meditations, but can not move forward to divination if I am to proceed as instructed, a chapter at a time. One option I have in mind is to gain familiarity with all the crucial three practices (meditation, ritual and divination) and utilize them without the ceremonial part with all the required props.

    I would hate to be stuck there, as I have grown quite fond of what I have discovered thus far. But I imagine questions such as this have to be quite common as there are limitations of one kind or another (for example sensitivity smells in general).

  54. http://www.astrotheme.com/astrology/Helena_Blavatsky#hbiographie
    http://www.astro.com/astro-databank/Blavatsky,_Helena_P.

    Discussion of HPB got me curious so I looked up her horoscope. Her history and personality are given in general. Her horoscope is a holy rectangle with 4 planets not in this pattern. She has 4 relatively tight conjunctions, mars/saturn in virgo near mercury, uranus/jupiter in aquarius, venus/moon in libra and sun/north node in leo. The virgo planets discipline her. Aquarius planets get her into new territory. Libra planets make her socially attractive to put across her message and leo makes her a leader. The feedback of the oppositions, sextiles, trines get these conjunctions activated constantly. This is the holy rectangle. One is forced by this feedback into a constant growth cycle. I find this personally. It is like a motor, spiral growth process upward. No getting stuck in a rut here. Now whether one starts a big movement or becomes more sel actualized (in any particular area) depends on individual. It also seems to depend on luck whether one quadrant of horoscope is strongly activated. For me physical work among lots of people got my energy moving after decades of quiet development. Blavatsky was thrown into the wide world by circumstance of an unhappy marriage to a man twice her age so she ran away into the wide world
    and never stopped moving, fulfilling her horoscope potential. There are so many potentials in the individual, whether intellectual, social, technical, mechanical, sexual, spiritual of which we are hardly aware until we just stumble upon them or are forced into them. Economic and social chaos is bringing people back to discovering basic physical and emotional skills which a peaceful existence in a successful economy has hidden from us. IQ was shown in a recent study to have gradually fallen since ww2 in some country as civilize people gradually lose skill sets as mechanization takes over traditional skills such as cooking, sewing, gardening, social interaction, walking, etc.

    I read some traditional stories of spiritual initiation and one was put off by teacher/guru by being forced to do some menial labor(sweep, cut wood). Then came the breakthrough as one had sharpened mental discipline by disciplining the body. This seems to work. A normal working class person is more quick/sly than a desk jockey. When a spiritual practicing desk jockey sharpens the senses in this manner electrical signals, hormones, etc. are more activated and the already activated spiritual energy is accelerated, if one is fit enough to survive the transition in middle age.

    All the fake and real history of magic and spirituality should concentrate on the science, i.e. first principles, of change, similarities in various traditions. Legitimizing a particular ritual only helps support rights of clerical burocracies, instead of giving help for spiritual progress.

  55. “Not at all. In next month’s post, we’ll look at occult history from a different angle, and talk about why it’s important and how it’s used as part of the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will.”

    I shall indeed be interested in such usefulness, and why it seems important in recent times to be marginal, if that is the direction you intend.

  56. Alternate history is the main mystery remaining to me from my book “The Sacred Science of Ancient Japan.” I've spent a few years in Tokyo tracking down the doctrines of the documents I discussed, and I've started to understand much of the documents address prominent metaphysical issues of the time periods when they were published, but it's still puzzling. The best explanation I can think of relates to Guénon's belief that Hindu texts were not authored by people but by metaphysical principles. Similarly, sending your teachings back to ancient Egypt or Atlantis is a way to attest to their metaphysical/creative origins… until someone questions your attribution, that is…

  57. Two tribes; stories and genealogy… hmmm… I make rather a meal of it. Your interest, however has been helpful to me.

    I am reminded of a scholar clergyman long ago telling me that in Eastern England (where we understand the Germanic peoples first established after the legions were gone), he had seen mediaeval records (1300s?) of ‘Welsh’ (‘strangers’?) living separately in or about English hamlets. I am told today that we cannot really tell who these people were; people moved around. But people also stayed put. We have modern genetic evidence of possible relict communities. There is a case to be made, I understand, for descendants of a Roman cavalry detachment (recruited originally somewhere in the Roman Balkans) still living in North Wales not far from the great garrison town of Chester. From genealogical evidence we know we have a great many family lineages over more recent centuries, still in located in place. The appropriate word therefore might be ‘interwoven’ inheritance.

    So what of my intuitions? I make typos all the time, (thanks Alan), and it might go deeper than that, so I offer these tentatively. A word got into my vocabulary when at school, regarding biological evolution and evidence whereof: ‘recapitulation’, which might also apply to social inheritance. Well … the intuitions of a possible ‘two tribes’ came first, well in advance of ‘evidence’. It felt that way both in the landscapes – mostly when young roaming woods and further afield on bicycles through the not yet fully motorised towns and villages, among remnant mediaeval and 18thC, let alone pre-historic, structures in Southern Britain – and in the persons I met. Going west the softer tribe seemed more in evidence, though a few miles further on the Brythonic-speaking people or their descendents, of course had their own ways. But I met curious echoes everywhere. And I found myself living the experience. And, from time to time I picked up ‘evidence’ and a framework for thinking from thoughtful members of our culture. Some persons, like the clergyman above, imparted their own interest. Sometimes it felt like I got recruited.

    continued…

  58. continuation…

    Babies do not enter as a blank sheet onto which everything is ‘taught’ or must be ‘learned’. The evidence is overwhelming that ‘development’ and ‘maturation’ in the biological sense is ‘designed’ (err… you know what I mean – smile), to pick up particular sets of clues and make sense of them. Regarding the wide range of arrangements physiologically and socially for coping with such inconvenient appendages as dependent infants, women as I came to understand it, often had (have) a hard time. I learned it could (can) be hard to do more than just ‘cope'. Things did not always come ‘naturally'. Much was not even allowable. Distinct from pathologies of personality, or lack of ‘skill set’ and absence of practical support, there were, more typically, socially imposed or internalised conditions (‘tramlines’, ‘scripts’?). I hardly know what to call this latter ‘conditioning’. (Hard to know what this has added up to either historically or in our modern life, let alone for individuals, but I have listened to some dire rationalisations especially from the less sensitive tribe. The softer tribe though seemed to set get great store in cherishing and were comfortable with kindness.)

    And there were in earlier days our separate fishing people with still communal lives working the remote tides. The ‘shawlies’ with their babies were only a bit before my time, and I met direct descendents who could erect a 800 ft radar mast in 1939 like a Native American team on the girders in New York. The practice of a lactating mother strapping an immobile baby to herself or indeed to another carer having sufficient bond, seems probably significant. There is that milk feeding itself, extending perhaps over years, as well as many other physiological ‘feed-backs’ to mesh with custom. There is infant noise. There are apprentice mothers and carers. There is familial teamwork, but again needing wider company and social context. That context includes the more confident encouraging nods and smiles of recognition and bond 'in the moment' and the swift hand of support. I cite a modern Scottish writer Neil Gunn for an attempt to picture a different minority tradition – of course Robert M is right, though I might not use his words. Sure, it is hard work; whoever. And we can’t help telling stories.

    I do not think my intuition can be proved. I will always wonder. It is not down to ‘Christianity’ in my view, though it was another Christian clergyman who explained to me the differing point of view – having complex origins well beyond his Christianity I am sure – of the whole training approach to upbringing. He had ‘meshed’ his theology neatly with his British upper class upbringing and considerable education, and his pastoral role. For another snapshot, perhaps think the Queen and the sides taken during the ‘horrible year’. The later death news rang the nation like a bell; on a par with vibes of the British surrender of Port Stanley, but in the death case was very divisive. Where it cut, it opened old wounds.

    Because of JMG’s space bat challenge, thanks again JMG for the challenge, I found myself incorporating bits into stories, now in volumes 3 & 4.

    best
    Phil
    PS. I just remembered Graham Green’s Lawless Roads, especially the opening autobiographical chapter: similar evidence but different conclusion to be drawn.

  59. Violet, of course. Human beings think with narratives as inevitably as we eat with mouths, and human cultures have evolved, over countless millennia, ways of storing narratives that matter so that they'll still be around when next they're needed. That said, isn't the quest for origins itself a core theme of myth?

    Eric, I know. To my mind, the habit of insisting that mythic narratives can only be true if they're true in the most pigheadedly literal of senses is very troubling — and yes, I've also watched the emergence of a sort of Unified Field Theory of rejected knowledge, in which everything from UFOs to Atlantis to monatomic gold to the assassination of JFK must all have a place. It's the flipside of the way that scientific rationalism has tried to create a unified theory of everything, and just as heavily laced with political motives, of course. I should probably do a post on that one of these days, though I'm not sure which blog would be more suited for it!

    Robert, hmm! I wasn't a great fan of the Discworld books — great fun and all that, but I found them repetitious after a bit. Clearly I need to revisit that.

    Dammerung, I'd start by treating the narrative as metaphor, and asking what present realities are being symbolized by the Finns, the Koreans, et al. That's a good starting place with the Atlantis myth, certainly.

    DoubtingThomas, the authors who make those claims about the scablands haven't done their research. (I grew up in Washington State and visited the scablands regularly in my misspent youth, so it's something I studied extensively.) The scablands weren't created in a single flood. Extensive and consistent stratigraphic evidence shows that there were something like forty floods, one every couple of decades, caused by the filling of a glacial meltwater lake behind an ice dam, followed by the busting of the dam, followed by another glacial surge that replaced the dam. A comet impact wouldn't cause the many layers of flood debris, the geological markers of filling and draining you see on the site of Glacial Lake Missoula, the terminal moraines plowed up repeatedly by the ice dam, etc., etc., etc. It's because so many alternative-history theorists can't be bothered to look into the details that I find so much alternative history so unconvincing.

    DoubtingThomas, most of the time what that means is that your time of birth got copied down wrong. That's extremely common — your mother and the hospital staff all had lots of other things to think about when you arrived, after all! — and astrologers are used to it. You can use a process called rectification to find the actual birth time; it takes important dates in your life so far and uses progression in reverse to figure out when you had to be born so that those dates would be shown in advance in your natal chart — but it's work for a skilled professional astrologer. As for astrology no longer working on people beyond a certain level of spiritual development, there's a certain limited sense in which that's true; the old adage has it “the wise govern their stars, fools are governed by them,” implying that a sufficient degree of self-knowledge can show you how to balance out the problematic aspects of your horoscope and capitalize on the good parts. The horoscope still applies, though — and a good astrologer can read your level of spiritual development from your chart!

  60. DoubtingThomas, I suppose you could call it that if you wanted to reduce everything to the things you've Capitalized. I was making a more specific point, though.

    Phil, that's fascinating. One thing that feeds into the difference, of course, is the extreme distance between the ways of living our species evolved with and the ways of living we have today — I've often thought that our current practices of schooling and childraising, appalling as they generally are, are desperate expedients to train humans to live in ways that conflict with all their instincts — but you seem to be suggesting something far more biologically rooted than that. Hmm…

    Brother G., that wasn't the main focus I had in mind, but the practice of deliberate self-marginalization probably does deserve some discussion.

    Avery, that book — and your concept of “parahistories” — have been invaluable to me in working out a way of understanding exactly the phenomenon I'm discussing here. It's partly a matter of metaphysics, but it's more than that. Stay tuned!

    Phil, hmm again. Living on a continent where the original inhabitants were all but exterminated and the flood of colonizing strangers followed on such a massive scale, I can scarcely imagine the sort of thing you're describing, except in very abstract terms. Still, most interesting.

  61. @Phil Harris,

    I definitely think the real divide in Britain is East/West rather than North/South. In my travels around Britain, I have frequently noted that the people on the Western side of the country seem to be inherently more empathetic – places like Liverpool, Glasgow, the West Midlands, Wales.

    I also believe that “remnant” communities might not always be such. I was told by a cousin of mine who lives in the Calder Valley that one of the towns in that valley (might be Mirfield, but I'm not sure) was settled by Welsh archers in the Middle Ages, and there was a pocket of Welsh speakers there until relatively modern times. So the tides of migration on this island haven't always been one way.

  62. JMG, Patricia, Alan
    Thanks for toleration (!) and interest.
    Sorry for the abstraction. I won’t labour it, but a point of clarification…

    The dominant upper-class English clergyman I mentioned firmly believed that training (upbringing) was the key to imposing good behaviour on human nature. I was reminded recently of the Carl Rove talk of Empire and imposing imperial reality – ‘we make it up’ – on the world. My suggestion was that America got that imperial notion of reality from the dominant strand in the source culture(s) (colonist) and it was integral in the ‘European wave’, which, as you point out, has consequences. Within the source culture here though, I detect survival of perhaps more sensible views of the ’reality’ of human nature that are at least better grounded. I suspect that the imperial view is not a sensible response to the real ground of North America, whatever that is.

    I hope I do not paraphrase wrongly the clergyman or Carl Rove, or your point of view. I value the non-imperial understanding you bring to the world.

    very best
    Phil H

  63. Many thanks for your reply, John Michael Greer, I'll be meditating on the quest for origins as a core theme of myth and see what patterns emerge. Upon reflection there is a definitely a consistency in this aspect of most myths, and the structure is clearly important in and of itself – appearing as a statement of ancestry, founder effect, sensitivity to initial conditions and perhaps other things I can't yet see clearly but sense swirling in the swamp of origins. More reflection is needed!

  64. How's this for an interesting coinkydink? I had ordered The Secret of the Temple from the local indie bookstore. Wouldn't you know it, but it arrived the day you posted “The Word that Made the Fields Flourish”…

  65. Phil, one of the things that makes the US a particularly weird place is that it got so many people from the odd corners and fringe cultures of Europe. The town uphill from here had so many Welsh immigrants that one of the Baptist churches offered services in Welsh into the 1950s; there are whole counties in Pennsylvania where the place names are half Welsh. All the Celtic nations are massively overrepresented in US demographics. Then you get things like the mass migration of central European religious dissidents here, and so on. The overlay of upper-crust English culture and demography is a real factor, but it's on top of a very different substratum.

    Violet, “the swamp of origins” is a keeper. So many people want origin stories that are nice and clean; just as we're all engendered and born in a mess of sticky bodily fluids, though, real origins always have that swampish quality.

    Armata, that does change things a bit, doesn't it? 😉 As for the synchronicity, why, yes, such things do happen…

  66. @JMG: Thanks for the answers. Appreciate the info on Astrology.

    Re the authors, I tried to make it clear in my correcting comment that they were not specifically talking about the creation of the Scablands. Although that was mentioned, the Scablands [ actually more a specificly part of it whose name I don't recall ] AND some other features in a distant region (again whose name I don't recall) are used to support a another theory about an impact at some point in time during the Younger Dryas.

    Randal Carlson has spent decades doing his research he has his own all across the USA accumulating his data, you would need to take up his personal theories with him [ you would also need to read them first for an accurate account of them before beginning to judge them ]. Dismissing RC, based on my poor recounting, without consuming his material is a bit silly.

    Carlson's material is just one of several legs in GH's comet theory which in turn is a small sideshow in his research in to evidence for a prior civilisation. Carlson has his critics, as does GH but then who hasn't?

    I am a poor reciter of either of their material so I wouldn't recommend taking my recounting as verbatim.

    The fact that you have been, seen and decided upon a valid idea for the Scablands creation is cool but really has nothing to do with what I was attempting to highlight. I fudged up on my initial mention and have been trying to correct it ever since with no success. n.b. Whatever your own idea is, no doubt there will be agreers, as well as detractors with their own variants too. That's the scientific method after all. It's quite rare to get 100% buy in from all interested parties.

  67. A bit off topic for this month, but I found it a very interesting shift in direction. Rhyd Wildermuth delivered another “open letter to Pagan leaders.” In it, at least from my reading, his suggestion is much more a call for communities to turn inward, focus on protecting their own members, and become less focused on the quest for legitimacy. When I saw the headline, I expected much more of a call to action of the “let's oust our members of questionable ideology, and then rally together and take to the streets” variety, but instead he's basically suggesting that the Pagan community should look towards being something closer to what it was in the 1960s. The shift from “these ideas or anything vaguely resembling them are dangerous and must be watched, and these organizations in particular” to “speaking out in defense of the vulnerable people in your community groups may alienate people with extreme attitudes” is also quite a softening. Even the bits about forming networks are less about policing other groups and more about offering support to members of adjacent groups that face problems. If that end of the community follows their own advice, then they may fade into the background and become a little bit less of a thorn in the sides of less radical wings of the scene.

    https://godsandradicals.org/2017/01/27/editorial-an-open-letter-to-pagan-leaders/

  68. JMG
    You wrote: “I've often thought that our current practices of schooling and childraising, appalling as they generally are, are desperate expedients to train humans to live in ways that conflict with all their instincts — but you seem to be suggesting something far more biologically rooted than that. Hmm…”

    Yes, I think I am. I suggest, I think, we might be getting the mix of instincts our customs grow. (Thus expression of a 'custome'; to stretch too far an analogy borrowed from the dafter end of genomics? Smile.)

    @Phil Knight. Yes, East / West Britain has felt that way to me often enough. It seems something of past lives might linger in the demeanour of people – even in 'thin air'. Smile. Sometimes I have had flashbacks to other people's past: perhaps a few times a flash-forward to a future. It was reassuring recently to glimpse great trees growing in the future of a favoured valley.

    best
    Phil H

  69. Hi JMG,
    More related to last month's post, but very interestingly I just listened to your podcast on Den of Lore. The interviewer recommended checking out Randall Carlson's work on the Frail and Sacred Geometry. I was going to mention the same thing, wondering if you'd been in contact with him. The subject of reviving the wasteland is very important and timely. Thank you for your work.

  70. Somewhat off topic, relevant to the on-going implosion of Neo Paganism et al:

    For several years in my early twenties I studied the Michael Teachings and found much of it helpful in my personal development. For the past few years I drifted away, mostly on account of certain cornucopianisms which are a part of the teaching, and them 'upgrading' their website to near unusability. However, I keep a finger on the pulse of it, and have been saddened to see what I perceive as a steady decline of the quality of the channeled material.

    Today I noticed this: http://our.truthloveenergy.com/topic/1076-official-tle-position-on-trump-followers/ which opens by acknowledging that there hasn't been any actual issues with Trump supporters, and then proceeds to kick anyone and everyone who voted for Trump, or won't denounce him, out of the community. The channel also refused to work for anyone who either voted for Trump or won't denounce him in an earlier post. this also radically reframes the teaching as something part of the 'pantsuit nation' of spirituality. How sad, what I always valued most about the Michael Teachings were their sense of supreme icy detachment…

  71. @Violet

    Yeah, Troy (the channel you mention) has a serious problem, and a number of members have taken him to task for this one. I've tried to stay out of the kerfuffle. This is not the place to discuss it. If you want to discuss it with me, I'm on IRC twice a week at the usual time and place that's documented in an out-of-the-way section of Dave's site.

    The big thing to remember here is that there are no 100% accurate channels: every channel has cis own biases and blind spots that affect the content and quality of the channeling; to expect otherwise is to set yourself up for disappointment. The saving grace of the MT is that there are a number of credible channels, possibly as many as a dozen.

  72. DoubtingThomas, fair enough. I'll examine their claims when I have the time, and see if they make more sense than your summary did.

    Eric, hmm! Interesting. It would be a very good thing to see him move more generally in that direction.

    Phil, interesting.

    RickH, I know it was a typo, but the Holy Frail is pretty good — presumably this would be Mary Magdalene? 😉 I haven't had the chance to chase down any of Carlson's books yet; just at the moment I'm up to my eyeballs in Matila Ghyka's very solid “The Golden Number,” which covers some very useful realms of sacred geometry; but I'll get to Carlson as time permits.

    Violet, I wish I could say I was surprised. As we move from an era when pop culture focuses on spirituality to one in which it focuses on politics, expect a lot of this sort of thing.

  73. JPG, Yes, that's a good one! I laughed when I saw that typo but couldn't edit it after the fact. Substituting the F for the G must be contagious, unless you meant to invent the word “flimpses” in the most recent ADR post!

  74. @Violet

    If you go back and read the policy, including the clarifications, you'll notice that what you claimed simply isn't true. Nobody is being kicked out. What is happening is that it is an extremely strong anti-harassment policy, not all that different from the one that JMG has explicitly on his sidebar.

  75. @ John Roth,

    It appears that Troy edited the comment after I had read it to include the bit about not explicitly kicking people out who voted for Trump (he discusses this clarification in the comment posted at Friday 12:12 am). I would venture to say that even with this statement he is implicitly threatening to kick out people who don't share his analysis. To be fair I see in my comment I wrote that Troy was “kick[ing] anyone and everyone who voted for Trump, or won't denounce him, out of the community,” and there isn't evidence for that in the link I posted, so your concern appears to me as valid. The reason I wrote this bit is on account of one thread where people actually were kicked out (I believe it is in the thread about the election). If someone went on TLE and posted that they voted for Trump in a non-repentent way I imagine they would indeed be kicked out. Troy even says as much in the clarification saying that while just voting for the man won't get one kicked out that “…the official TLE position is that no one in this community will be expected to endure anyone who voted for a hateful ideology”. ie for Trump.

    I disagree that what Troy is saying is merely an anti-harrassment policy he writes “I know everyone here already knows this, but I wanted to officially announce that TLE is a sanctuary of inclusion, love, acceptance and progress for all and TLE will never humor, accommodate, or welcome anyone who passively or actively supports any ideology whose aim is to harm you.” After the piece that was added later it is written “This announcement is not to impose political positions or personal beliefs because we are well beyond the realm of politics and beliefs now. We are dealing with real world threats and consequences. And no person who supports those threats or helped cause these consequences is welcome here.” This reads to me as doublespeak, and that the final sentence totally deactivates the proceeding two. Then Troy equates Trump with Hitler, then stating “You are living in a time of heroes and villains. You are living in a time when the world is distinctly divided, not by you, but by those who decided some people do not deserve the same freedom, rights, and peace that they deserve. You are living in a time where you have to make a decision, with every fiber of your being, about what side you are on. This isn't a choice that anyone should have to make, but a part of the population has forced this choice upon us. And it has to be made clearly, unflinchingly, and unapologetically…
    If you think you have not chosen a side on any of those issues, then you actually have. If you are not actively pronouncing your position on those things, then your silence is as responsible for where we are as a nation, as humanity, as anything else.”

    To my eyes taken all together it is clear by the both the words and tone of what Troy wrote that he intends to kick out people who disagree with him, and that people who keep silent are assumed to implicitly agree with his positions and that in effect there is but the thinnest veneer of acceptance of diverse view points. In this way I disagree that what he wrote is similar to what is on the sidebar here, as our gracious host writes “Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here.” not “if you disagree with me I will consider you opposed to my very existence” which is what I believe Troy is saying.

    That is how I at least interpret the text and, with all due respect, I'm not interested in continued discussion about the implicit and explicit meanings of what Troy wrote here.

  76. You mean the great Egyptian age was not a mere remnant of fair Atlantis? Burst my bubble. But on the subject of disagreeing with the mainstream narrative, I would personally rank orthodox anthropology as somewhere between orthodox pharmacology and orthodox physics. So I hold out hope for a more fantastic interpretation of prehistory all the same.

    I'll admit I have noticed though, that the antediluvian narratives I find most plausible are also those that happen to support my own biases. I am not a particularly skilled diviner, but would those who are tend to agree that the distant past is progressively harder to divine in much the same way as the distant future?

  77. Christopher – as I understand it, the problem about divining for the distant past is that you don't really know what vein you've tapped into. Many of the ones I've heard of sound like they've picked up a professional convention of pulp fantasy writers. Who, of course (as JMG has pointed out) may have been tapping the same vein originally. And of course, the scene is full of people who've had past-life regressions along the line of “You can't be Helen of Troy! I was Helen of Troy!”

    “Be vewy, vewy careful,” says the Great Mage Elmerus de Fudd, “I'm twapping newbies!”

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