Monthly Post

In Search of Immortality

The explosive growth of interest in occultism that followed the rise of the Theosophical Society in the late nineteenth century set many currents of thought and practice in motion, and some of those were stranger than others. The one we’ll be exploring in this month’s adventure in America’s magical history is one of the strangest, though what makes it strange is that it was deeply rooted in the notions and prejudices of a time most people misunderstand if they think of it at all.  From within the worldview of late nineteenth century America, it was straightforward, plausible, even obvious. It was also wrong—but we’ll get to that.

“Just remember, son, if you touch yourself there you’ll go blind.”

To make sense of the movement we’ll be discussing, it’s necessary to have some grasp of that remarkable cultural phenomena we call Victorianism.  During the second half of the nineteenth century, throughout the English-speaking world, the great majority of educated opinion held that sex was the source of all human evil, and that sexual acts were at best filthy animal practices and at worst an infallible source of ruin that dragged not only the participants but all of society into utter degradation of body and mind. This was the era, remember, when physicians insisted in all seriousness that masturbation would cause you to sprout hair on your palms and go insane.

That bizarre belief points straight to the source of these collective neuroses, because of course hair on the palms in traditional European folklore is the classic mark of the werewolf, the man who becomes an animal.  At the root of the problem was Charles Darwin’s writings on evolution, which delivered a body blow to the self-confidence of Victorian intellectuals. Used to thinking of themselves as a little less than the angels, they suddenly found themselves only a little more than the gorillas, and the thought that they might slip the rest of the way into a purely animal existence haunted their nightmares. The werewolf, a fixture of the romantic fiction of the time, made a great metaphor for that fear; the physicians who warned young men about hairy palms probably weren’t conscious of the metaphor, which made it all the more powerful in its time.

Two of London’s tens of thousands of sex workers.

Of course people still had sex.  Victorian London, to judge by the available evidence, had more sex workers than any other city in Europe, and the great cities of Victorian America were almost as well provided.  Read the fiction or, for that matter, the newspapers of the time and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a torrent of sexual activities wrapped up in just enough euphemisms to give them an additional jolt of prurient interest. The Victorian era was not so much a time of heightened morality as one of heightened hypocrisy or, not quite so nastily, of a vastly widened gap between the ideals people thought they should embrace and the lives they actually led.  Most Victorians in the English-speaking world really did believe that sex was beastly and that a life of strict moral purity was much better; the fact that they couldn’t live up to these beliefs didn’t make the beliefs themselves any less earnestly held.

One of the things that reliably happens in the presence of such a gap between ideals and reality is that people come up with ever more exalted notions of the benefits to be gained by following the ideals. That certainly happened in this case—and that was how it happened that a significant and influential movement of prominent occultists in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America proclaimed that it was possible for individuals to achieve physical immortality by giving up sex and redirecting the sexual energies to the cause of endless life.

Hiram Erastus Butler

Our story begins with a man named Hiram Erastus Butler. He was born in Oneida County, New York, in 1841, grew up as an ordinary upstate New York farm boy, and joined the Union Army when the Civil War began.  He wound up in a military hospital in Pennsylvania in 1863, which probably means he was wounded in the Gettysburg campaign.  There he fell in love with one of the nurses, Sophia Agnes Wilson, whom he married in 1864.  They had three children—a son named Elmer and daughters named Olla Eleutheria and Sophia Agnes—but the marriage didn’t work out, at least on Butler’s side.  He bailed out on his family around 1870, leaving his wife in poverty so dire that his children spent time in a foundlings’ home.

This isn’t what Butler claimed later.  His official biography claimed that he was wounded in a sawmill accident after the war, losing several fingers, and thereafter withdrew to the New England woods and lived as a hermit for fourteen years.  During this time, whatever else he may or may not have been doing, he studied astrology and became a member of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, the influential occult lodge we discussed last month.  He also seems to have studied the teachings of Paschal Beverly Randolph, the even more influential African-American mage we discussed last year.

Butler’s approach to the material he learned from Randolph and the H.B. of L., however, was about as far from their original focus as you can imagine.  He became convinced that when the Bible said “the wages of sin is death,” it meant this literally, and—with him as with so many Victorian thinkers—sin, for Butler, referred to one thing and one thing only:  sex.  Semen, he believed, contained the essence of life, and if that essence was not lost to the body in the usual way, it could be used in advanced spiritual practices resulting in physical immortality.

In 1886, as we have seen, the H.B. of L. imploded, leaving its members in the lurch and inspiring a good many of them to find some other magical order that wasn’t the Theosophical Society. The next year Butler launched his own organization.  It had the distinctly odd name Genii of Nations, Knowledge, and Religions, G.N.K.R. for short, and Butler topped this by giving himself the name “Adhy-apaka, the Hellenic Ethnomedon.”  (No, I have no idea why.) He set up shop in Boston and started publishing a magazine, The Esoteric, to promote his views.

He also broke new ground in the occult book field by publishing, also in 1887, the first pop-culture astrology book.  Solar Biology was the first astrology book to list astrological placements and give a paragraph of canned interpretation to each.  Its long-term influence was limited by the fact that Butler used his own eccentric version of astrology, which dropped out of existence about the same time he did, but it was a bestseller in its day and plenty of other astrologers copied the idea. Modern newspaper astrology would never have happened if not for Hiram Butler. (Yes, this is just as ambivalent a form of praise as it sounds.)

The appearance of the G.N.K.R. caused quite a bit of gnashing of teeth in the Theosophical Society, and it’s not hard to understand why.  They’d no sooner succeeded in driving the H.B. of L. out of existence with a campaign of character assassination and innuendo, and suddenly here was another organization challenging their claim to a monopoly on occult wisdom!  The response, inevitably, was the same one that the H.B. of L. got.  Blavatsky herself insisted in print that the initials G.N.K.R. stood for “Gulls Nabbed by Knaves and Rascals” and assailed Butler as a brazen con artist whose spirituality was far less than skin deep.  William Quan Judge, the leading American Theosophist of the era, published an equally strident piece denouncing Butler as an ignorant plagiarist.

More successful than these hit pieces, which (to be fair) were not much more extreme than the ordinary journalism of the time, were rumors that Butler and other men in his organization were engaging in immoral activities with the women who joined G.N.K.R.  It’s hard to know what to make of these rumors. On the one hand, it’s unquestionably true that an organization that makes extreme claims on behalf of celibacy will attract people of both sexes who are trying to convince themselves to be celibate when all their inclinations go the other way, and this reliably results in people in such organizations following the inclinations in question more often than not.  It’s also true that sex cults—allegedly mystic orders with ornate names and symbolism, which existed for the primary purpose of giving their members a secure and congenial venue for casual sex—were becoming a booming industry in those years. (We’ll be discussing these in much more detail later in this sequence of posts.)

“Of course it’s a spiritual practice, my dear.”

On the other hand, accusations of sexual immorality were a standard libel directed at alternative religious groups at that time, and were flung around freely with no regard for the facts.  It’s also true that people who think they ought to be celibate but can’t quite make themselves do so tend to accuse those who are actually celibate of sharing the same weakness, and since the former category was exceedingly well stocked in Butler’s time, whipping up a moral frenzy among people who are a lot less chaste than they like to pretend in public was an easy move.  So we simply don’t know whether Butler was having sex with his female students or not.

One way or another, however, the Theosophists and the newspapers made life in Boston too hot for Butler and the G.N.K.R., and he and a group of his followers left town. They next surfaced in San Francisco, where the G.N.K.R. found new converts but ran into the same sort of trouble.  In 1891, Butler did one of the other standard moves of alternative spiritual leaders in his time, moved to a rural property near Applegate in northern California, and established a commune.

A postcard from 1909 showing the Applegate commune.

I gather that there are still people who think that communes were an invention of the 1960s counterculture, and I’m not too surprised, as that level of stark historical ignorance is all too common in other fields these days. In point of fact, the communes of the 1960s were a faded echo of one of the grand traditions of American alternative culture.  The commune founded by Johannes Kelpius and his fellow mystics in 1694 in the trackless wilderness of eastern Pennsylvania, the subject of the first post in this sequence, was the harbinger of a vast outpouring of communes of every imaginable kind across the entire landscape of the United States.

Butler himself grew up near one of the most famous of these—the Oneida commune founded by free-love prophet John Humphrey Noyes—and there were plenty of others in America in his day, so he was following a familiar pattern.  He and his followers, having retitled themselves the Esoteric Fraternity, built a big communal house on their new property, planted gardens, got a publishing house up and running to provide the steady infusion of cash that every viable commune needs, and settled in for the long haul.

The commune is still there.  Butler, on the other hand, is not.  He died in 1916 at the depressingly ordinary age of 75. Nor did any of his followers manage to live forever, or even exceed the normal human lifespan.  They still managed to find successors, and there are still members of the organization living in the house that Hiram Butler built, but the quest for immortality through chastity passed to other hands a long time ago.

Hiram Butler’s current residence.

You might be surprised, dear reader, that this quest didn’t end with Butler’s death.  It did not, because occultists in those days were perfectly aware of the problems with drawing sweeping conclusions from a sample size of one.  That Butler merely managed a long and healthy old age didn’t disprove his theory—it could be the case, the occultists reasoned, that Butler had the right theory but hadn’t put it into effect the right way, or that there was some confounding factor that Butler hadn’t taken into account.  The logical response was to try as many variations on the same approach as possible, and see if one of them worked.  This they accordingly did.

We could spend a long time talking about the variations on that theme that American occultists played over the course of the early twentieth century, but we’ll limit ourselves to one.  This was George Washington Carey, a farm boy like Butler, born in Dixon, Illinois in 1845.  When he was a year and a half old, his family did as so many other Americans were doing just then: they sold their farm, bought a covered wagon and a year’s supplies, and set out on the Oregon Trail. They settled in the Oregon Territory, and the next thing we hear about Carey, forty years had passed and he owned the general store in the dusty little frontier town of Yakima, Washington.

Geprge W. Carey

Yakima in those days wasn’t quite a one-horse town, but it was small enough that Carey was also the postmaster, an insurance agent, and a salesman for Dr. Jordan’s Medicines, a popular brand of the era. (His wife Lucy was the town hatmaker.) Selling medicines inspired a passion for healing in Carey; he promptly became a physician, which in those days was usually done via apprenticeship, and the particular school of medicine he studied—well, that involves complexities of its own.

In Carey’s time there were many approaches to medicine.  The one that’s officially approved these days was only one, and, before the invention of antibiotics, it wasn’t noticeably more successful than the others. Herbal medicine was common, and so was homeopathic medicine—if you haven’t encountered this, it’s a system that uses specially prepared microdoses of medicines to goose the body’s systems into balance.  Another was called biochemic medicine. It was an offshoot of homeopathy created by a German doctor, Dr. W.H. Schüssler, who noted that human bodies normally heal themselves of illnesses and injuries, and decided to experiment with the mineral salts found in the human body itself. Nineteenth-century science had detected twelve of these, and he found that microdoses of these salts prepared in the usual homeopathic way could be used to treat most diseases with good results.

That was the system of medicine that Carey studied. He became a capable biochemic doctor and an enthusiastic promoter of the system, and founded a College of Biochemistry in Yakima with several other local physicians, though it doesn’t seem to have lasted long.  In 1894 he published The Biochemic System of Medicine, a good solid textbook on the system, which remains in print to this day—but after that, another gap in the records closes in, and his peregrinations for the next two decades remain obscure.

The curtain rises again in 1917.  By that year Carey had relocated to southern California—Lucy was apparently no longer with him, though the details are unknown. (Given his age, she may well have died by then.)  He was still a passionate supporter of biochemic medicine, but somewhere in there he had encountered the ideas of Hiram E. Butler, and became convinced that he had discovered the secret for which Butler had sought in vain.  A life free of sex and alcohol was essential for physical immortality, he taught, but it was not enough by itself:  the next step required biochemic medicines.

Carey had by this time become a capable astrologer, and he worked out a table correlating each of the twelve biochemic cell salts to a sign of the zodiac. Drawing on a free mix of offbeat Bible interpretation, occult teaching, and his own considerable knowlege of anatomy, he argued that doses of the right combination of cell salts—which varied from person to person based on birth date—would affect the sympathetic nervous system and the pineal gland, setting off a cascade of transformations that would eventually result in physical immortality. He taught this system to students in his own school in Los Angeles, and he also published a series of impressively weird books, beginning with The Tree of Life in 1917 and ending with God-Man: The Word Made Flesh in 1920, setting out his system of personal transformation.

That system became a standard part of the curriculum of dozens of occult schools and magical lodges in early twentieth century America, and you can find people still teaching it today. Carey is, I am sorry to say, not one of them. He died in 1924, at the ripe but still rather ordinary age of 79. The regimen of birth date-linked cell salts he devised has a variety of positive effects on body and mind, but it isn’t the key to immortality.  He wasn’t the last American occultist to preach bodily immortality and then spoil it all by dying—that honor belongs to Paul Foster Case, whom we’ll be discussing in a later post—but after Carey’s time, promoters of immortality had to contend with growing skepticism within the occult community.

Occultists aren’t supposed to behave like that, according to the standard rationalist rhetoric these days. They aren’t supposed to test hypotheses against the evidence from experiments and make up their own minds on that basis. Apparently no one told the American occult community this in Butler’s time, or Carey’s, or Case’s, because that’s exactly what they did. From within the worldview of Victorian culture, as modified by the occult revival of the early Theosophical era, Hiram Butler’s theory about physical immortality was a hypothesis worth investigating, and he and a great many other students of the occult proceeded to investigate it.

The result of their research was that Butler’s theory was disproven and discarded. As scientists know—well, the honest ones, at least—that’s a necessary and appropriate step in the growth of any body of systematic knowledge. Early twentieth century American occultism was gathering just such a body of knowledge, testing the traditional lore it had received from European occultism and the legacies of earlier generations of American occultists, and assembling a toolkit of approaches to personal transformation that was broadly shared among the various schools, orders, and societies of the movement.

That process involved a certain amount of discarded hypotheses, of the kind we’ve just followed. It also involved some exceedingly colorful squabbles between contending occultists. We’ll talk about one of the most colorful of those—the wars between America’s Rosicrucian orders—in next month’s installment in this sequence.


  1. “He bailed out on his family around 1870, leaving his wife in poverty so dire that his children spent time in a foundlings’ home.”

    Oh man, that’s bad, and very ugly! What a family man…

  2. Speaking of California communes…

    …I went ahead and read the Tom O’Neill book “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties” that we talked about a few weeks ago. And I’m really glad I did. I think he did an excellent job in his reporting and investigation. I hadn’t read much about Manson before, but it did put a new spin on things. Much of it seems entirely plausible given the circumstantial evidence he uncovered, and the people who wanted to sue him (the author).

    I recommend it heartily to anyone else who has even a passing interest in the history of the counterculture. There are a lot of lessons in there.

    & thank you as always for your writing. It’s interesting to get a bit more background detail on the man behind the cell salts and all those interconnections.

  3. As well as vampires and werewolves were there any other beasties that symbolised Victorian neuroses?

    How long do you think people could live before they started having significant problems (apart from possibly Daoist immortals)? The consensus of fantasy and science fiction seems to be between 300 and 400 years the wheels really start coming off. 🙂

  4. Sanskrit dictionary
    [«previous (A) next»] — Adhyapaka in Sanskrit glossary
    Source: DDSA: The practical Sanskrit-English dictionary
    Adhyāpaka (अध्यापक).—[adhi-i-ṇic-ṇvul] A teacher, preceptor, instructor; especially of the Vedas; व्याकरण°, न्याय° (vyākaraṇa°, nyāya°) professor or teacher of grammar, logic &c.; भृतक° (bhṛtaka°) a hired teacher, mercenary teacher; °उदितः (uditaḥ) styled a professor. According to Viṣṇu-Smṛti an adhyāpaka is of 2 kinds : he is either an Achārya i. e. one who invests a boy with the sacred thread and initiates him into the Vedas, or he is an Upādhyāya i. e. one who teaches for livelihood (vṛttyartham) See Ms.2.14-141. and the two words. [उपनीय तु यः शिष्यां वेदमध्यापयेद्द्विजः । सकल्पं सरहस्यं च तमाचार्यं प्रचक्षते ॥ एकदेशं तु वेदस्य वेदाङ्गान्यपि वा पुनः । योऽध्यापयति कृत्त्यर्थमुपाध्यायः स उच्यते (upanīya tu yaḥ śiṣyāṃ vedamadhyāpayeddvijaḥ | sakalpaṃ sarahasyaṃ ca tamācāryaṃ pracakṣate || ekadeśaṃ tu vedasya vedāṅgānyapi vā punaḥ | yo’dhyāpayati kṛttyarthamupādhyāyaḥ sa ucyate) ||]

  5. Dear JMG,

    Many thanks for this! If I may, I’m curious how occult research works functionally. The examples you cite here are great, and dying of course does disprove any claim to physic mortality! Still, I find it remarkable that so many clearly bad ideas that many generations have disproved — such as getting high on drugs as an occult practice — still find many practitioners. That said, there is clearly a convergence of techniques and a testing process with ideas being discarded and other ideas evolving. For lack of a better term, I’m very curious how ‘peer review’ works in an occult context of usually rather diffuse practitioners.

  6. You give such an lively and colourful insight into the world occult practices, peoples and ideas, that I feel quite reassured about our humans bubbly and chaotic activities all over time and space to sustain their graving hunger for life, fame and lasting impact like in a colossal bustling anthill. I always enjoy that familiar matrix you do display. My appreciation!

  7. I’m curious about the role (or lack thereof) played by reincarnation or a conceptions of an afterlife in the thinking of occultists like Butler and Carey. Why did they want physical immortality? Were they coming from a Christian worldview and wanted to avoid an eternity in heaven or hell?

  8. Ray Kurzweil begins to come into…or perhaps….recede in focus…LOL

    Likewise Peter Thiel, Nick Bostrom and the rest of the Transhumanist crowd. At least Hiram et al immortality seeking occultists seemed to want to live forever because they loved life. The transhumanists all seem to despise it, which begs the question why they want to prolong it. I’ve always assumed it was garden variety will to power, despising of limits. Those who want to download their consciousness into a computer and become the singularity seem to want not just to rule the world but to consume the entire universe.

    Me, I’m fine with my physical limits and dying, and am enjoying being on earth as is.

  9. It’s interesting to note that abstinence from sex is also considered to be a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for physical immortality in Taoism. And they’ve been trying it for thousands of years. So its not just a western thing.

  10. Chuaquin, I ain’t arguing.

    Justin, glad to hear it. It really is worth a close read.

    Yorkshire, ghosts. Ghosts are all over Victorian fiction, and they became especially popular right about the time Victorian women started starving themselves, wearing very tight corsets, and cultivating the image of the delicate, ethereal, almost disembodied feminine… As for immortality, I doubt they’d get that far. A hundred years, give or take, seems to be about as much as a human personality can take without trouble.

    Jayant, many thanks for this! Since I’m not literate in Sanskrit, of course, I didn’t know this.

    Violet, it’s a very slow process precisely because the community is so diffuse. You’ll notice, though, that while the notion of getting buzzed as a cheap trip to enlightenment still clings to life, the specific drugs keep changing. I don’t know anybody who’s using chloroform to achieve spiritual states, as Anna Kingsford used to!

    Hubertus, thank you. History should be fun!

    Ip, those of Carey’s books that I’ve read never mention reincarnation. I haven’t read Butler, but I’d be surprised if he does, either. There was a massive division among occultists in the late 19th century between those who believed in reincarnation and those who rejected it in favor of some version of the Christian afterlife, and as far as I know Butler and Carey were on the latter side.

    William, good! Yes, the singularitarians are the latest rehash of this same notion, with a good heavy dose of Protestant Christian fundamentalism in sci-fi drag. That’s why they long for eternal life while hating the lives they’ve got — that immortal life in a computer is their ersatz version of the Christian heaven, and so of course they despise this vale of tears and long for cyber-Jesus to take them home across some electronic simulacrum of the river Jordan in all those nineteenth-century spirituals.

    Ecosophian, it’s a very widespread idea. It doesn’t seem like a very sensible one to me, but whatever floats your boat.

  11. @ Darkest Yorkshire

    In spite of theories that it might be possible to live a maximum of 150 years, the actual evidence suggests only a small minority make it past a hundred. Seventies, eighties and nineties seem to be as much as most of us can manage. The trick seems to be to keep as active and engaged in life as possible. If you have the right DNA, you can get some serious mileage. The feisty Ziegfeld Follies dancer Dorothy Eaton Travis lived to be 106. For those who don’t mind looking at moving pictures, her videos are a hoot to watch

    The oldest recorded individual was Jeanne Calment at 122 years (though there seems to be some doubt about the identity of the person who actually died). There’s just no indication anyone can live any longer than that. There might be some super duper multi-centenarians lurking about but if so they are doing the smart thing and staying out of sight lest they wind up in a lab getting poked and prodded by nosy scientists.

  12. Thanks for another great post in this series. This is my first exposure to Hiram Butler…the accidental patriarch of newspaper Astrology! That’s a very rough bit of personal history when he abandoned his destitute wife and three small children, just at his Saturn return. I can only imagine he was haunted by this for his remaining 46 years.

    Carey’s story is also fascinating. I’ve been very pleased to have enrolled in the cell salt experiment you devised based on his work and imagine I’ll be sticking with that protocol permanently. The human figure used to illustrate Carey’s correlation of the circular zodiac with human anatomy always amuses me since the only bodies capable of that configuration must be a handful of 14 year old female gymnasts!

  13. The idea of signing up for being alive (or conscious, or whatever) at an arbitrary point in the far future doesn’t appeal to me for two very simple reasons. The first is that I can’t know the conditions under which I’d exist. See Harlan Ellison’s “I have no Mouth and I must Scream” for a better idea of what I’m referring to.,_and_I_Must_Scream

    The second…well…the legends of my people speak of the dangers of messing with such things. I’ll be satisfied with my allotted 4 score and ten.

    Lothar von Hakelheber

  14. Was there any thought during Butler’s time of noticing that Roman Catholic priests & nuns did not live forever? I know of course that not every priest or nun keeps their vow of celibacy, but there are some. I also know that it was not uncommon among non-Catholic Americans to hold unusual beliefs about Catholics. My mom remembers the KKK in Ohio when she was growing up as being more anti-Catholic than anti-black. She also told me that when a new childhood friend of hers found out she was Catholic the friend asked how she could be a member of a church where priests and nuns had rampant sex, killed any babies that resulted and bricked them up in the walls of the convents and rectories!

    P.S. Old joke: Can I just do it until I need glasses?

  15. So, that’s what’s behind Miriam Akeley’s lecture on the terror of racial degeneration into mere biology in Lovecraft’s day – when the taboo of sex was still going strong as well – which Owen was listening to as Weird of Hali: Innsmouth opens. Darwin.

  16. “the wages of having a body are death” <– fixed it for them, will I get beatified? 😉 ("hey guys.. what's with the torches? having a party? guys…?") Certainly I have learned this year that to say "death is not a punishment! If you're lucky, it's just the thing that happens _after_ you get your three score and ten"- that is a very sacrilegious thing to say.

    The hairy palms lead me down a strange path of connection, to lyrics from one of my favourite prophet's (Alanis Morrisette) hymns: "Hallelujah" (from her third Book, Jagged Little Pill), about her time in Catholic school and how that shaped her spirituality (though most will remember her later slightly cheesy Thank U about her sabbatical from her extremely achievement oriented life in India, instead).

    "my brothers, they never went blind for what they did
    but I may as well have.
    In the name of the Father, the Skeptic and the Son –
    I have one more stupid question…"

    Which provides my favourite Name for the Holy Spirit I've ever heard – though I have no idea whether it's one in wider use – I think it is certainly the one that is compatible with the scientific approach when someone presents you with a "tiny, mad idea".

  17. Thank you for this series. The talk of occultists trying to achieve physical immorality reminds me of Linda Goodman, of the famous Sun Signs (1968) book which everyone New Agey read in the 70s and 80s. I read some of her books and was surprised to learn that she thought she could achieve eternal mortal life by becoming first a Fruitarian (eating fruit only) and then progressing to being a Breatharian (no food at all). I was sceptical to say the least. Is this a common theme among the more wacky American occultists?

    She ended up dead at a not very impressive 70, due to diabetes. Another American occultist preaching bodily immortality and then spoiling it all by dying…..

  18. I’m more interested in the sex than in the immortality. The SCA sub on Reddit had a post where a user wondered about the finale of the Breendoggle: the scandals created by Marion Zimmer Bradley and her pedophile husband, Breen. Your name was mentioned in the original post, and where you said that some groups were sex clubs with some ritual added on before 1979. I enjoyed seeing later posters expound upon the differences between Gardner and Sanders, and say that both were mostly out to get laid. I was feeling a bit lonely thinking I’m in the tiny minority of modern witches who know about Gardner and Sanders, and don’t get spells from TikTok.

    Did you know that roughly 1/5th of people in the SCA are pagans? Or at least answer that way on a survey from the organization.

    It got me thinking that if the SCA were a bit of a sex club with some medieval costumes thrown in before 1979 it would explain so much.

    However, like our Victorian friends I must keep these vile and unmentionable thoughts to myself. For now. Maybe.

    If we ourselves cannot become immortal, can we create egregores that feed off of our sexual (and other) energy, that are closer to immortal than we are at least? Perhaps you’ve addressed this issue in some other place and some other way, but I’ve not read enough yet to see it. I suppose the answer is that sex magic is a dull instrument and there are finer, better ways to do things. Probably ways that require much more math, walking, meditation, and reading up on things.

    The first serious occultist that I ever met said that she could achieve orgasms that lasted for half an hour. I said, “Well don’t you get bored?”

  19. Yorkshire and JMG, recently scientists came to the opinion that a human body can be made to live at most 130-150 years; the oldest humans whose age has been documented were 125-130 years old. The oldest persons to date were Jeanne Calment from France and various Japanese people.

  20. Hi JMG,
    I believe that the Shakers got their start in America in the 1820’s, in New England. I wonder if Hiram got some of his ideas on abstinence from them–
    The (theoretically) abstinent, yet mixed-company Shaker communitarians were known for honest business practices, equality of women to men, hospitality, and taking in orphans. It is possible to tour the Shaker Commune at Pleasant Hill outside of Lexington KY, if anyone is local to that area.

  21. Was the movement around Analee Skarin an independent development? Some kind of Christian Science off-shot?

    There are still people preaching immortality, but no longer from the anti-sex perspective. See “Ascension” by Susan Shumsky for an example. It´s a kind of super-narcissistic New Age version where you can “ascend” immidiately (!) after…a week-end class in New York, or something to that effect.

    Don´t quit your day job.

  22. So the cigar chomping speech in Dr Strangelove about precious bodily fluids and communist infiltration actually had a historical basis. Why am I not surprised?

  23. Jim, you’re welcome and thank you! I’ve certainly found the protocol worth doing — it shows no sign of giving me eternal life, but then that’s not the only game in town. As for the remarkably flexible human figure, there was a thing for that in early 20th century American occult literature:

    Go figure.

    Lothar, I read that Ellison story not long after it first appeared in print, and yes, it’s a good point!

    Mike, I have no idea whether Butler wondered about that. For that matter, he could have visited a Shaker community — Shakers practice strict celibacy, and have the usual lifespan. As for anti-Catholic hatred, yes, there was a lot of that. It’s a source of bleak amusement to me that anti-Masonic hatred and anti-Catholic hatred are both pervasive themes in American culture, and the same accusations routinely get directed at both…sometimes by each other.

    Patricia M, excellent! Yes.

    Pixelated, no, I don’t imagine people take either of those well. I have to say that “Alanis Morrisette and the Hairy Palms” would make a great band name…

    Bridge, thank you for this — not least because your spell checker changed “immortality” to “immorality,” which makes a nice Freudian commentary on this whole subject. As for the fruitarian and breatharian whackjobs, yes, that was something that came out of the goofy end of American occultism. I recall with some amusement the time that a famous breatharian was caught in Seattle buying burritos from a 7-11…

    Womensatlasrc, good heavens — I’m impressed that my discussion of Victorian sex cults came up in that discussion. Most Neopagans react to any mention of that whole subject the way vampires react to garlic aioli. I’m startled that only 1/5 of SCA members are Neopagans — when I was involved (a long time ago, when An Tir was still a principality), the proportion seemed much higher than that. As for building egregors, you can use sexual energy for that, sure, but the resulting egregor tends to be very strongly sexualized as a result — great if you want to build a sex club, not much use for most other purposes.

    Emmanuel, the Shakers did indeed believe in strict celibacy, and generally practiced it — when you have all the men sleeping in one dormitory, all the women in another, and a firm policy of never leaving people alone, it’s fairly easy to maintain that. (Anyone who decided to do otherwise was free to leave.) It’s quite possible that Butler picked up some ideas from them — though as I noted above, they also didn’t live for more than the usual lifespan.

    Tidlösa, good heavens, no, she was a Mormon who got a personal revelation and was excommunicated for it. As for the whole Ascension hullaballoo, that’s a decayed offshoot of a tradition we’ll be discussing in more detail down the road a bit.

    Mandrake, yep. One of the things that made it so funny at the time is that people like William Dudley Pelley were saying such things.

  24. The idea that man could become immortal by not ejaculating and preserving their semen was also a Daoist idea. I was taught it in the 1990s, but I think it’s a very old idea.

  25. @JMG on the SCA – I do vaguely remember a song I heard at one Grand Outlandish with the chorus “If you canna get laid in the SCA, you canna get laid at all.” Probably an old ballad filked, which was also common at Grand Outlandish when the various home brews and commercial ones were flowing freely. And yes, a lot of the same faces were showing up at Beltane.

  26. “I recall with some amusement the time that a famous breatharian was caught in Seattle buying burritos from a 7-11”

    To be fair, the nutritional value and wind content are likely the same.

  27. The first Shakers came from England to New York in 1774. Over the next several decades they grew in numbers (by conversion, of course) and set up colonies in NY and throughout New England.

    My wife and I visited a Shaker colony in Canterbury, New Hampshire, about 45 years ago, and we met one of the very last Shakers, a very old woman–and still sharp as a tack! That colony had decided against admitting new members; when the last elderly Shaker there died, it became a Shaker museum. One other colony in New England (at Sabbathday Lake) did admit a few new younger members, so there are probably still a small handful of Shakers there today.

    The Shakers view(ed) God as simultaneously male and female. Mary Baker Eddy took this idea from them and built it into a cornerstone of Christian Science theology, “Father-Mother God.” (Compare Genesis 1:26-27.)

  28. Anton LaVey had a theory that invoking a phenomenon he called Erotic Crystallization Inertia or ERI would extend life. His theory went that if you recreated scenes from the peak of your sexual prime, say age 22 or so, in the form of home decor, fashion, and general environment, that it would enable you to extend your life. For him this meant an ongoing rehash of the scene of the seedy hotel room where he allegedly bedded Marilyn Monroe. ERI seems profoundly sad, if you ask me, with more than a tinge of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? He died at age 67.

  29. @womensatlasrc:

    To the best of my knowledge, MZB was one of the founders of the Society for Creative Anachronism in 1966, in Berkeley. I have heard that the first SCA party/event was held either in her back yard or in the back yard of her sister-in-law by adoption, Diana Paxson, but I don’t know for sure. (Between 1964 and 1967 I was in the process of relocating from Berkeley to Rhode Island, so I didn’t hear as much about odd Berkeley goings-on as I had during the previous decade.)

    A large fraction of the undergraduates I met at Brown University who were seriously interested in magic and/or paganism were also SCA members, or at least occasional participants in SCA events.

    BTW, I have no doubt whatever that Moira Greyland’s memories of growing up in MZB’s home are spot on. Common attitudes toward children’s bodies and sexuality back then, at least in California, were utterly different from what they are today, and were wholly beyond the pale by today’s standards! Greyland’s experiences in her childhood were far more intense than many children’s experiences, but IMHO not fundamentally different in their character. (Wer den Dichter will verestehen, muß in Dichters Lande gehen.)

    And I am appalled to hear that today’s witches have barely heard of Gardner and Sanders! (O tempora! O mores!) No doubt Robert Cochrane, Sybil Leek, and their like have long been buried in oblivion.

  30. It seems to me that the search for immortality has gone mainstream. Although it’s not usually stated explicitly, the notion within medicine (and/or popular conceptions of it) seems to be that death always has a cause; therefore if we eliminate all the causes of death, then nobody will ever die. All we have to due is cure infectious diseases, cancer, heart disease, dementia… It’s still a rather long list, but we’re working on it.

    I also find it odd that people think the way to health and long life is to ingest/inject cocktails of ever more arcane chemicals. In the country where I live, the corona has got people staying away from doctors and hospitals (either because they are afraid to go, or because the hospitals are being kept empty in anticipation of a crush of corona patients that never comes). Coincidentally, all-cause mortality dropped significantly last year. It’s just a hunch, but I suspect there is a connection.

  31. The SCA as a sex club! That’s the only time a sex club has ever sounded appealing to me.

    Thank you for this series, it’s so fascinating!

    Jessi Thompson

  32. Isn’t advocating celibacy as one becomes an elder sage just a matter of turning a necessity into a virtue? (Not that I would know, personally,… 😉 )

  33. The present crop of Corporate Great Resetters didnt get the immortality memo and while tney dont seem to be giving up on sex, they definitely have developed a fascination for blood in their 21st century Dark-Occult quest for immortality, as well as digitised consciousness.

    Vampire Elixir of Youth Transfusions of the Blood of Youth Now Being Scientifically Proven

    Harvesting the Blood of Americas Poor- The Latest Stage of Capitalism

    5 Creepy Ways Billionaires Are Investing in Immortality

    Corporate Quest For Immortality

    Peter Thiel of Palantir Paypal Wants To Inject Himself With Young Persons Blood

    Cryogenic Freezing of Dead Wealthy Elites

    Wealthy Attempt to Digitise Consciousness & Live In A Simulation

  34. Tomriverwriter, well, since China isn’t bursting at the seams with immortal Taoists, I have my doubts…

    Patricia M, well, I lost my virginity at an SCA event, so I find that thesis very likely.

    Pixelated, okay, now it’s my turn to spray tea on the keyboard! Thank you.

    Kimberly, yeah, that sounds like Howie Levey. Bleah.

    Weilong, yes, there’s a connection. The last time there was a doctor’s strike in the US — this was back in the 1970s, in California — the death rate dropped by 20% or so. Word got out, the doctors wound up their strike in a hurry, and they’ve never done it since, as too many people noticed that medical care has become a significant cause of death…

    Jessica, whatever floats your galleon. 😉

    Lathechuck, funny.

    Tea Trowel, yes, I’ve read about that. I wonder how many of the rich who do that will end up dying of bloodborne pathogens.

  35. Doubtless this history is the origin of the old saw-

    Patient: Doc, if I stay away from women and liquor, will I live to be a hundred?

    Doctor: Well, no, but it’ll sure feel like it!

    –Lunar Apprentice

  36. I’m getting a kick out of this view of history. Speaking of communes, back when I was a kid in Salt Lake I had one Unitarian friend who said he’d tried pointing out to some of the Mormons that Brigham Young was essentially a communist. They did no appreciate it very much. At that time, my father was being called a “communist” by the local folks because we were Buddhists.
    Having left Salt Lake at the age of 14, I have no idea if they are still as ultra-Victorian in their attitude toward the human body as when I was little. As soon as the adults were out of the room, the kids (five years and up) would resume what I would characterize as the most intensely passionate research into a forbidden subject that I have ever seen. My mother also says the first time she was ever groped was on her first day in Utah. Kids play doctor everywhere else. What my little friends and I played in Utah was called “Nasty.” Ew. No wonder I never wanted children.

  37. If I may piggyback on a comment you made:
    “As for immortality, I doubt they’d get that far. A hundred years, give or take, seems to be about as much as a human personality can take without trouble.”
    Oh this got me thinking. Actually, it is not the physical immortality that is being sought. It is the immortality of the personality. Like in the example of “uploading your brain into a computer”. They could not care less about the body. It is themselves, their ego, they seek to preserve.
    Going from your comment, it seems that every attempt at immortality would be doomed to failure, if no by anything else, then by madness of the subject.

    How would this go with the Egyptian method of mummification? The body is not kept alive, but preserved, so the luminous form can still inhabit it and it gets feed so it can be sustained. But would all the luminous ones eventually go insane or something similar?

  38. Dear JMG, That’s a good point regarding how the drugs people purport will grant easy access to higher states of consciousness has shifted. In a real sense, it seems to me the search for the magical drug may have already reached its peak: since the advent of the synthetic drugs there was a real and not entirely ridiculous attempt by psychonauts to attain instant enlightenment with all sorts of exotic research chemicals such as the various lysergic acids, tryptamines, MDMA, etc. Now living in the hangover of the great research chemical bonanza, it seems from my perspective that that would be psychonauts have gone towards a remarkably retro route: either they go for ayahuasca, which William S. Burroughs wrote about extensively on, or they go for some cactus with mescaline, which Aldous Huxley wrote extensively on. This indicates to me that we are now past “peak drug spirituality” in the sense that we’ve seen so much of since the 1960’s. Since they’re now circling back to the retro botanicals of midcentury, it seems to me that perhaps we’re approaching a similar discrediting of getting high as a spiritual practice as the discrediting of celibacy as a means of attaining physical immortality you discuss in this essay.

  39. Jeanne #11 and Booklover #19, I was assuming people that were technologically or magically enhanced. So they could be 350 years old, not look a day over 20 and be in perfect health, and still have had it with life. Or have warped in some way that even if they didn’t want to die, they probably should.

    Womensatlarc #18, after three months of edging I once had an orgasm that lasted around 30 seconds. It was like a cross between a giggling fit and a minor seizure. If it had lasted a minute I’d probably have reached the JUST KILL ME NOW phase. 🙂

  40. I had a vision of how cryonics is going to go. A billionaire has their body frozen. As far as the universe is concerned, they’re just dead. They go to the afterlife then reincarnate. Many lifetimes. They ultimately become an enlightened sage. As they’re preparing to begin what will probably be their last human life, someone finally figures out how to revive frozen bodies. The sage feels a pull to something that feels vaguely familiar. Then finds themselves wondering why they’re suddenly a shivering and twitching tech bro.

  41. I have never understood the (late) Taoist preoccupation with immortality, especially given how opposed it is to earlier ideas of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Mercury as an elixir of everlasting life? Not a good idea! Mditating on these thoughts a few months ago I chanced upon a possible explanation.

    Early Taoism stresses the idea of cycles. Nature has ups and downs which the wise follow and the foolish oppose. Cycles are circles and circles are never ending. They are — well, can be — sustainable. Consider a closed orbit in a phase space representing the stable solution to a system of differential equations [1]. Consider Barry Commoner’s 4 laws of ecology [2]. Consider the almost new age sounding hype of Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics [3], or the more sophisticated circular economy that the journal Nature promoted in 2016 [4]. Circles can go around forever.

    What if late Taoism through mistranslation or misinterpretation given Taoism’s inscrutability, mistook ideas of never-ending circularity for immortality? Early Taoists recognized the importance of sustainability. Later Taoists made the mistake of chasing a personal immortality instead of a sustainable life style. That error has unfortunately been repeated throughout history from late Taoists to early American occultists to certain camps of so-called “modern science.”

    Oh. The mercury comes in because upon heating shiny, liquid, metallic mercury it will oxidize to a red powder. Further heating can drive off the oxygen and return it to a shining liquid puddle [5]. That is a pretty amazing cycle!

    thank you,


  42. A friend of mine once enthusiastically described an article he had read that claimed everyone alive today could expect to live to 180 years old, owing to upcoming developments in medical technology. That was about 10 years ago and it doesn’t seem any closer to being true.

  43. Assuming that the people saying celibacy is a necessary component for immortality are correct, what else is necessary? Given the universe’s warped sense of humour, I wonder if the way to achieve immortality is to live a life so boring no one can stand to do it for long enough for it to be noticeable……

  44. Apprentice, funny! Yeah, it’s probably connected.

    Patricia O, a lot of American religious groups have communalism somewhere in their backstory — it was a standard approach in the 18th and 19th centuries, though nearly every group discarded it as soon as they had the economic resources to do so. As for whether Mormons are still that puritanical, there I can’t help you; anyone else?

    Marko, that’s an interesting question. The literary evidence suggests that souls in that condition sink into a vague dream state most of the time, and only awaken when they receive offerings. I suspect they’d go crazy if they were fully conscious all the time.

    Violet, that’s my guess — the quest for spiritual enlightenment through drugs is going through the same trajectory as the quest for immortality through crossing your legs very tightly. How long it’ll take before the whole notion slides into the dumpster of discredited ideas is a good question.

    Yorkshire, funny. I recall a science fiction story — I think it was by Larry Niven — that referred to cryonically preserved remains as “corpsicles.” It might be worth reviving the term!

    Bfp, that may well be part of it. China, as a very ancient civilization, preserved remnants of archaic technologies that have been forgotten elsewhere, and some of those got tangled up with Taoism in various odd ways. As for mercury, that was partly a security device. Taoist alchemical manuals routinely give formulas for the elixir of life that are extremely effective slow poisons, which produce a sense of exhilaration in the victim; the same manuals also say things like, “when your body begins to tremble, this is a sign that qi is flowing more strongly through the meridians and you are close to eternal life.” (Trembling is a symptom of advanced mercury poisoning.) That was done in the same spirit as the German alchemical recipe that makes a couple of ounces of hideously unstable gold fulminate and then tells you to pound it up with a mortar and pestle — a process that will send fragments of you and your lab a noticeable fraction of the way to the Moon. It’s intended to make sure the clueless and the uninitiated have all the help they need to remove themselves from the scene.

    Alex, that same claim has been rehashed every decade or so since the 1920s, that I know of. I think it’ll happen about a week after the first commercial fusion reactor goes on line. 😉

    Mollari, a case could be made!

  45. Esteemed Archdruid, the Good Old Grauniad is once again paralleling your commentary, with this article from today discussing a paper from Nature:

    Now oddly enough, when I clicked the links in the Guardian article it took me to the Nature website but not to the quoted article, which was nowhere to be seen. Maybe the Guardian (or Nature!) editor was so old they forgot where they put it… 🤪

  46. I will be lucky if I get to be 70 . I am ok with that. My main concern is to live longer than my cats, so that they won’t have to suffer being abandoned (I have family and also belong to an animal help association, but adopting senior cats is always hard and messy).
    However, living and being healthy for a very loooong time has an appeal. The hunger to do and learn things. To develop skills from beginner to mastery.
    Has a card carrying geek/nerd I know of a lot of people that would do their best to become immortals. Oddly (or perhaps not) several would be equally happy to be caught in a time loop (reliving the same day over and ever until it is a perfect day, and whatever skills you have become fully developed) or learning a skill like Kage Bunshin no Jutsu (creating duplicates of yourself and later absorbing them) and using it to develop skills and knowledge.
    Since as far as I know those things are even rarer than immortality my advice has been to fully use every day. Not wasting time around TV, and to use the advice that Don Juan gave to Carlos Castaneda. “Whatever you’re doing now can be your last action on Earth. Do it impeccably”.

  47. Violet: “Since they’re now circling back to the retro botanicals of midcentury, it seems to me that perhaps we’re approaching a similar discrediting of getting high as a spiritual practice…”

    JMG “…how long it’ll take before the whole notion slides into the dumpster of discredited ideas is a good question.”

    The idea is quite ancient and takes various forms, in keeping with the spirits of the time.

    It seems to me that in our time, for the most part, the rituals are corrupt and the use of such medicines and practices is promoted in service primarily to the gods of commerce.

    There is an interesting list of botanical substances used in rituals here:

  48. @JMG

    I wonder how many people are attracted to magic by the promise of immortality? Its seems to be a recurring theme since the times of ancient Egypt where initiates into the mysteries were promised they will know a way to overcome death (or at least the fear of death). Then we have the European alchemists striving for a similar cause. Then what you described in the post above. Death gives people motivation to do things, including studying the occult, in order to avoid it.

    @Kimberly Steele

    As far as I know it, LaVey was not a practicing occultist. He was a circus man with a lot of charisma. I’ve read The Satanic Bible and was thoroughly unimpressed by it, he was not an original thinker.

    @Tea Trowel

    The idea that blood is the key to maintain youth is definitely not new. Elizabeth Bathory was a turn-of-the-17th century eastern Hungarian aristocrat who believed that bathing in the blood of virgins would maintain her youthful looks. Apparently she had around 600 young girls murdered in order to bathe in their blood. I wonder how far her modern counterparts will go.


    My guess is that the Chinese culture had its own plunge toward materialism, much like the Western culture. Probably caused by the same astrological influences that JMG spoke about earlier. Its interesting to know that both Taoists and western Alchemists held Mercury in high regard.

  49. JMG,

    I’m disturbed such a high percentage of key luminaries in Western occult/ magical tradition appear to be transparent and pretty much complete scoundrels. A majority of them seem to be crystal-clear cases of connivance, milking the vulnerable and under-age for money, sex, and power. Most of the rest appear to be confused and not generally very admirable in their personal lives and general life-accomplishments. Skipping out on wives and children and debts appears to be a common theme.

    Helena Blavatsky, in particular, seems like a real piece of filth: transparent criminal fraud, through and through, with lots of cheap tricks and BS stories (Atlantis, etc.), milking people for fun and profit. And a generally really nasty person, using all manner of dirty tricks, magic tricks, and innuendo to undermine or destroy any competition in her criminal/ faux “spiritual” racket. Am I over reacting?

    I’m having a hard time recalling authentically good, real-world accomplished, and admirable characters from the many short biographies you’ve written. I know there must be some, but I can’t remember them…. Oh…Johnny Appleseed seemed authentic and on focussed mission; I liked him. There must be more I am forgetting? Maybe you can remind me?

    I also know there are some major names (Levi, Dion Fortune, and a few more) who walked their talk. Aleister Crowley was at least honest and congruent in his darker way. I am particularly looking forward to the bio on W.B. Yeats, as an example of a highly intelligent person, and world renowned writer I can respect. And yourself, as well!

    I am just giving you my feedback. Perhaps a recap of the greats – reminding me of why they were so admirable and inspiring – would be helpful?

    Another thought also crosses my mind: Roughly all the people you have biographed, whether I liked them or would prefer to see them in jail, have been unusually skillful/effective in getting others to follow them…largely blindly. There is that “change in consciousness according to will” thing again. It IS, like it or not, a major skill or a major talent which has been absolutely pivotal, again and again, in the large scale history of mankind. I have to acknowledge that.

    Is that the point?

  50. Would there be any downside to preserving youth and health without extending lifespan? So someone looked and felt at their peak, right up until they dropped dead in their nineties?

  51. I will offer some input about Mormons and their puritanical ideas of sex since I was born into that tradition (thought no longer practicing) and still live in the Salt Lake area. I don’t think it has changed very much at all. Young men and women are expected to be chaste until married, no extramarital sex if you expect to go to the temple. Also if you divorce and you expect to go to the temple, no sex. I think that masturbation is included in the sex ban as well. Marriage is the only acceptable place for sex and only between men and women. No trans or gay folk. Think of all those spirits in heaven you agreed to give bodies before you yourself were born.

    As for communism, in the 19th century when central Utah was being settled, a communal community was established in Orderville by the United Order of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints in south central Utah. Brigham Young decreed that it be so to help some refugees from another failed settlement in Nevada, following the communal ideas of Joseph Smith. No one was to own anything, everything went to the bishops storehouse and was suppose to be distributed fairly from there. I guess it had a brave start, but fell apart after about 10 years when the regional economy improved causing internal dissension and the anti-poligimist act was passed and many leaders were jailed or went into hiding.

  52. I like how you have linked the Victorian attitude towards sex with the (then new, radical) theory of evolution, JMG… it certainly was a bombshell that obliterated the (by that time, rusty) medieval Great Chain of Being and replaced it with a repugnant model which put humans just a bit above those filthy, bestial, promiscuous (as the Victorians saw them) apes! Today we may laugh at it, but I am sure that in the late 19th century, this sea-change was no laughing matter.

    While reading your description about the belief that a life of celibacy would lengthen one’s mind, I was struck by the same belief held by M.K. Gandhi, who was confident that on account of his early “conversion” to a life of abstinence he would live to be 130 years old (of course, due to the bullet of Nathuram Godse, we’ll never know if Gandhiji would reach that milestone – I have my doubts). In Hindu yogic philosophy, there is a similar belief that the retention of semen prolongs one’s life… however, Gandhiji was also heavily influenced by the philosophies that were floating around in the smog of London when he was a student there in the late 1880s/early 1890s. I am wondering to what degree H.E. Butler’s philosophy was also prevalent at roughly the same time on the east side of ‘the pond’.

  53. I’ll have to go to a bookstore and flip through the books in the Occult section until I find one that talks about Gardner, Sanders, Leek, etc. Waite, I could find. Crowley certainly. The rest though? I’m an avid reader, but only learned about them from Cardoza’s Dragon Magick & Alchemy website. (A fantastic collection of occult lore and Luis Vallejo prints.)

    Violet #38 I think drugs are becoming very mainstream. Just as modern progressives say that orgasm is healthy, so is a bit of hallucination now and then. Orgasm was supposed to let us see Heaven. Drugs were supposed to let us see fairies. (All I’ve ever hallucinated was ropes, so I’m a little disappointed on that score. Not even oneness with the universe or being pursued by sinister forces. I must be wired wrong.)

    Somebody on Reddit asked if it was possible to “do” occult sober? Groan. Like cold sober. Occult sober. Lame! But it was interesting that most replied in the negative on the r/occult sub. I wonder how the witchcraft subs would respond? In 20 years will someone say that occult lodges were just drug clubs with a bit of ritual thrown in? Brought about by our prudish reluctance to accept neurodivergence. Previously a sexual revolution, then a neural revolution? But this is all very optimistic just until the charlatans have their way with the system.

    Just to move the goalposts, I expect “real magic!” will become being able to control the hallucination. Lucid dreaming in hallucinatory form. And then how will they explain that things weren’t changed by some great hallucinogen-influenced ritual? The Pattern reinforced itself, the Veil corrected the changes? Or some great conspiracy theory even when The Man doesn’t prevent anyone from tripping anymore?

  54. As for whether Mormons are still that puritanical, there I can’t help you; anyone else?

    Speaking as someone with Mormon family: In my experience, there’s still a strong Puritan streak within Mormonism, but it’s weird. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no premarital sex – but also no caffeinated drinks. Or technically, according to either Doctrines and Covenants or The Pearl of Great Price, no food or drink that’s too hot or too cold.

    So sometimes you’ll get people loudly declaring in restaurants that they WON’T be having a Coke, thank you very much, because they are DEVOUT.

    Sugar seems to be one of the few exceptions to the rules, so there’s a long running Mormon love affair with ice cream. I can’t blame ’em there.

  55. Kimberly, re: ERI
    There‘s a proven effect that‘s quite similar and less creepy. A sample group of old men were taken from their nursing homes and asked to live assistance-free in their own appartments in a house that was outfitted and decorated in the fashion of their boyhood years. Not only did they manage to get by much more autonomously than in elder care, quite a few of them apparently showed physical signs of reversed aging, such as improved eyesight and agility after a few weeks of this.

    All, re: life extension in general: the oldest healthy people tend to live really simple, down-to-earth lives. I assume the best shot is to stay in great condition by living a meaningful life in a healthy environment and then riding out you nine to twelve decades, depending on your genes.
    I wouldn‘t be surprised to hear about the human equivalent to the odd 30-year-old house cat, though. Nature likes the occasional oddity.

    JMG, great essay, this series is growing on me! It‘s rare to read a history focused on individuals like this, much less about a field as colorful as occultism. Looking forward to the next installment!

  56. @Bryanlallan #46
    The Grauniad article doesn’t actually try to prove what the headline claims, nor does the Nature article that it references.
    What they show is that advances in longevity so far have been achieved by removing causes of premature death without fundamentally altering the trajectory of aging. They show that this trajectory has a similar pattern in different species.
    This says nothing whatsoever – one way or the other – about the feasibility of slowing down or stopping the process of aging if that is what one actually tried to do. That may or may not be possible given enough effort. The ability to make such an effort is already in decline due to the corruption of science and will decline much further if the future plays out as our host foresees. If so, we simply will never know what would have been possible.

  57. So there are tech bros who think they can prolong their lifespans by having themselves injected with other (presumably poorer) people’s blood? If, as JMG says, people who thought masturbation would give you hairy palms were being subconciously driven by the werewolf archetype of man turning into animal…it really doesn’t take a genius to figure out what archetype our tech vampires are busy invoking. As JMG says…dear God, this is going to end badly.

  58. I’m sure I’m not the first to post this but just in case. ‘Hysteria’ – I loved this movie:)

    Set at the end of 1880, the film depicts the invention of the vibrator. Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a young physician who has difficulty with his occupation due to constant arguments over modern medicine. He gets a job assisting Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), whose practice specializes in the treatment of “hysteria”, a popular diagnosis for women of that time. Medical practitioners like Dr. Dalrymple tried to manage hysteria by massaging the genital area, decently covered under a curtain, to elicit “paroxysmal convulsions”, without recognizing that they were inducing orgasms. Granville meets Dr. Dalrymple’s daughters, Emily (Felicity Jones), and her older sister Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a premodern feminist who runs a settlement house in a poor section of London.

  59. Wonderful essay! This series has opened a curtain to history that never saw the light of the day in classrooms. Thank you, JMG.

    Re: “discarded hypotheses” – what is notable in this process is that, frequently, other discoveries are made.

    I really don’t get the point of immortality on this plane of existence – living so long that everything new is old hat; been there, done that (again and again and again…).

  60. @womenatlasrc:

    The book I recommend for all the historical background on Wicca/Witchcraft (and Gardner, Sanders, Cochrane, Leek, etc. etc.) is Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. The second, revised edition was published in 2019 in hardback, 2021 in paperback, by Oxford University Press. The book is very readable, and the paperback edition is quite inexpensive. (It’s written as if Hutton were an extremely knowledgeable and sympathetic outsider.)

    Philip Heselton, too, has been producing a number of absolutely first-rate books on various aspects of Gardner’s life and work, which go into far miore detail than Hutton has the space to do in his Triumph. (Heselton is definitely an insider, and quite open about it.)

    PS All my own occultism has been done stone-cold sober, all my life long. (I got drunk just once in my whole life, decades ago when I was in my ’20s, on about six beers. Those six or so beers gave me the single most unpleasant time of my life–hours and hours of shuddering horror.)

    PPS One of the best “acid tests” to which anyone can subject potential occult teachers is to take a hard look at how they relate to their on spouse (and children, if any).

  61. Dear goldenhawk9, it seems to me that the idea of attaining physical immortality through the practice of celibacy is also ancient, and still has its adherents. I imagine a similar trajectory for occult drug use, although I might be wrong.

    Dear Robert, if I may;

    you write: “One of the best “acid tests” to which anyone can subject potential occult teachers is to take a hard look at how they relate to their on spouse (and children, if any).”

    I find this extremely interesting since Israel Regardie, Dion Fortune, and Manly P. Hall all had broken marriages, and yet were — as I understand it — first rate occult teachers. I’m genuinely curious your thoughts on this, if you wish to share.

  62. Bryan, well, even a blind mouse can find a broken clock… 😉

    Whispers, I’m rather fond of that piece of Castaneda. He was a bunco artist but his advice was good.

    Goldenhawk, there are many ways to use botanical substances in rituals. Only a small percentage of them are there to get you stoned.

    Ecosophian, good question. I’ve met one or two people who thought they could avoid death by practicing occultism, but many, many more who knew better.

    Gnat, I’d encourage you to reread the essays in this sequence, then, because you seem to have forgotten most of it. Johannes Kelpius, Conrad Beissel, Joseph Stafford, John Francis, John Winthrop Jr., Johnny Appleseed, Phineas Quimby, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Emma Hardinge Britten, Ignatius Donnelly, L. Frank Baum, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Johann Georg Hohmann, Orville Leach, Peter Davidson, Genevieve Stebbins, and Elbert Benjamine, to name just a few names, don’t fit the characterization you’ve offered at all, in any way. Nor did most of them get people to follow them blindly, by the way.

    Yorkshire, sure. Any suggestions on how to do this?

    Vincent, I’m sorry to say I have no idea. Anyone else?

    Kay, thanks for this.

    Ron, I think it’s quite possible that Gandhi may have picked up some of his notions about longevity from Western sources; Butler was by no means the only person who was circulating such ideas.

    Womensatlasec, good luck. There’s very little in your average occult bookstore that discusses such things these days.

    Cliff, thanks for this.

    Eike, thank you! I”m having a lot of fun writing these posts.

    Tolkienguy, yep. I think it’s a subconscious response to the basically parasitic lives they live.

    Dennis, funny. I hadn’t heard of the movie, but I’m familiar with the phenomenon. Electric vibrators were being sold in mainstream magazines quite openly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to cause, er, paroxysmal convulsions…

    PatriciaT, you’re most welcome.

  63. Emmanuel Goldstein:

    The Shaker movement is a good deal older than that.

    Around 1750 a small group of believers broke off from the Society of Friends (Quakers); ‘Mother’ Ann Lee joined about a decade later and, in time, became the leader of the sect. As a result of persecution in their native England, the group emigrated to America, arriving in 1775/1776 and settled near present-day Albany NY.

    From the sources I’ve read, the requirement of celibacy was specifically instituted by Mother Ann herself. Some researchers believe that she was so deeply shaken by the loss of all of her children during infancy that her negative view of sex developed from that. Regardless of the reason, celibacy as a doctrine was instituted early in her leadership and led to the eventual dissolution of her own marriage.

    There are a number of Shaker villages still well preserved in New England. Mr. Beekeeper and I have visited quite a few and highly recommend them to anyone interested in the group; seeing the buildings and the remaining artifacts is so much better than looking at pictures in books.

    There is a particularly good biography of Mother Ann, “Ann The Word”, an interesting read.

  64. I was agnostic on exactly how someone was kept young. Regardless of how it was done, one potential problem I thought of would be if they died still in their prime at a hundred years old, their etheric body would still be at full strength. That could end up hanging around longer than it should. Stuff like that.

  65. re: Transhumanism

    If you want see what the Transhuman afterlife is like watch the Black Mirror episode San Junipero. Its about the only cheerful and optimistic episode of that show’s far too accurate portrayal of technology’s downside, Its not a terrible afterlife all in all.

    Now as for actual immortality. No but life extension is almost certainly technically possible , several drugs required for the rather complex process are in clinical trials already. If society manages to last through the 4th turning, it may happen. maybe.

    A lot of insanely rich people are more terrified of dying than usual and of all things population decline (since mankind is reaching carrying capacity and seems to wisely be limiting our numbers voluntarily) so there are a lot of anti aging startups out there. One may mange enough to create what is called escape velocity, that is people live long enough for the next advance rinse, repeat.

    If brain cells are included and memory holds up to a degree, we’ll probably make 300 or more years before an accident kills us , auto immune disorders get us or ennui ends our lives. More spiritual and laid back people who choose to take such substances will hold up better I think.

    Personally if it works , I’ll try it. I am rather weary of reincarnation.

  66. I think it’s a subconscious response to the basically parasitic lives they live.

    This would also explain the “live in the pod / eat the bugs” lifestyle that these people advocate!

  67. Dear Violet, of course you may!

    I did have face-to-face teaching in mind, not teaching by way of books.

    The latter is much safer for the student. However, because books necessarily use words and images, they are severely limited in how deep and how high they can go.

    As for the former, teachers are unlikely to end up treating their face-to-face students any better than they treat their immediate family.

    Some forms of knowledge and some forms of practice cannot be described in any language, simply because they involve things which the very severe limitations of human neurology make it impossible for humans to conceive or sense. When a person tries to go there, “Words get in the way.”

    The very same problem arises in Christian theology. To deal with it, theologians distinguish between kataphatic (cataphatic) and apophatic approaches.

    Western Christianity generally focuses on the kataphatic way to knowing its Triune God; its tools are thought, logic and language. Thomas Aquinas is one of its most impressive products. Yet he had a transverbal vision of God toward the end of his life, and refused to write any more of his masterwork, Summa Theologiae, afterwards. “All that i have written seems like straw to me.” (Straw was what covered the floors of Medieval classrooms and dining halls. Soon after it was freshly strewn, it began to turn into stinking rubbish. Thomas’s comparison is a very strong one. He might as well have said “offal” as “straw.”)

    Eastern Orthodox Christianity holds that the apophatic way takes one farther toward that same goal, that the Triune God is beyond every category and distinction that the human mind can frame, even beyond the ordinary distinction between that which exists and that which does not exist. (And this doctrine is not only a Christian one. Iamblichus says roughly the same thing.) There is a very good exposition of the apophatic way by Vladimir Lossky, in his The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (1957).

    Take a look, if you will, at the very, very short early Christian treatise titled “On Mystical Theology,” written by an author who hid his identity under the pseudonym “Dionysios the Areopagite.” You can find a good translation (with the original Greek in parallel) at

    You can work magic, too, with either of those two apporaches. The kataphatic magician uses words and rituals, circles and altars, incense and talismans, etc. The apophatic magician, in contrast, just transcends all those things, going beyond every thought and sensation, and tugs ever so gently at a thread or two of Indra’s Web to change something.

  68. Castaneda was a piece of work wasn’t he?
    His first book is useless, the next three are rather useful for any mage (and brilliantly explained and systematized by Victor Sanchez on his book – The teachings of D, Carlos) and the others… I don’t know. I used to consider them a truck full of baloney,
    He also mentions immortals in his books, The death defiers. Sorcerers of old that had their bodies buried and still live to this day on their dream bodies, robbing energy from living people. Bloody vampires.
    And it becomes apparent that his group ultimate purpose is absolute freedom, including freedom from dying. The idea is to lead a so disciplined life that on the moment of dying one absorbs the very same energies that lead to death and jump out of the physical body to an energy body and roam the Universe.
    A truck load of baloney… But I am not so sure anymore. The more I learn the more doubts I have.

  69. JMG: “there are many ways to use botanical substances in rituals. Only a small percentage of them are there to get you stoned.”

    Thank you, that’s intriguing, and something I should look into further.

    On the subject of this week’s post, I just came across an article that mentions a theory of eternal life put forth by the early 20th century artist, practicing alchemist, mystic, Egyptologist, Neopythagorean, and Theosophist René Schwaller de Lubicz (1887-1961).

    “Schwaller maintained that the fixed salt located in the [human] femur is the precise mechanism by which individual characteristics—the vital modes of consciousness—are able to be preserved and transmitted beyond the death of the individual.”

  70. One other thing came to my mind when reading this posting – particularly when reading the mini-biography of Hiram Erastus Butler: he hailed from upper state New York. Question: what IS it about 19th century upper state NY and the occult/weird? Butler, Joseph Smith, the Fox Sisters… I am sure the list goes on and on (some encyclopedic occultists can help me out here). Of course, the inimitable John A. Keel is also from upper state NY (20th century). Mind you, New York is a fairly big state, but still…

  71. Robert Mathiesen (#72), great comments. I’ve found that rituals et al. tend to lead to the transcendence, but I guess everybody’s different…

    As I understand it, Alan Watts had an early-career commentary on Pseudo-Dionysius, but I could never find it…


  72. Yorkshire, that could be an issue, depending on how the youth-preservation process worked.

    Simon, I don’t own a television, so I’ll pass. As for the three-hundred-year business, er, did you know that those claims have been being made for most of a century now, and so far, there has been zero actual lifespan extension? No, we won’t make 300 years; most of us, including the very rich, will continue to die in our 70s and 80s.

    Matthias, funny! They even talk about “shady and fragrant places” without mentioning the obvious shady and fragrant places the author had in mind… 😉

    Phil K, good! I didn’t think of that, but of course you’re right.

    Whispers, Castaneda is one of the great trickster figures of 20th century American culture. Of all his books, I found Journey to Ixtlan the most useful, but yeah, A Separate Reality and Tales of Power were also quite good. Since Castaneda got most of the material in those books through intensive fieldwork in the anthropology and philosophy sections of the UCLA library, there’s a lot of good stuff in there. I also found the later books not really interesting, but others may differ. Yes, there’s plenty of baloney in there, but I figure that’s what you get with a trickster…

    Goldenhawk, well, I burn a lot of incense in certain kinds of work, and there are also ceremonies that require flowers, bread, wine, and many other things from botanical sources! As for Schwaller de Lubicz’ fixed salt, that’s something he got from French occult sources, and ultimately from 19th century occultism generally; in other occult traditions there’s the claim that each of our bodies has a “seed atom” around which it coalesces, and each seed atom is located in a different part of the body — the seed atom of the physical body in the heart, the seed atom of the etheric body in the solar plexus, and the seed atom of the astral body in the liver. I don’t know of anybody but Schwaller de Lubicz who puts it in the thighbone!

    Ron, I don’t know. Someday I’d like to do a road trip up that way and see if I can get some sense of the roots of the weirdness. L. Frank Baum was born there, too…

  73. # JMG re “Someday I’d like to do a road trip up that way and see if I can get some sense of the roots of the weirdness.”

    If you do, you might want to try the western part of the state first. It’s best known as the Burned Over District because it seems to have been a literal hot bed of religious revivalism and social radicalism over the past few centuries. Something in the water perhaps? Or the geology? New Hampshire doesn’t quite have anything to match it. We’re a little more stodgy over here though Mount Washington does have a bit of a reputation….

  74. @Fra’ Lupo:

    Indeed “rituals tend to lead to the transcendence” … we agree about that, actually. But (IMHO) they’re not essential to getting there; the apophatic path leads there as well.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that to make the final jump, transcendence has to reach out, grab you, and pull you in. But it’s just a suspicion of mine, sister to my other suspicion that to become a rally competent magician, you have to actively court magic (which seems to me to be a sentience) as one might court a potential lover.

  75. Loving these little stories of America’s weird, esoteric history!

    By the way, we can facilitate that upstate NY road trip some time in the future if you ever want. Our little farm is almost right in the middle of the state.

    Also, I am sad to say that I won’t be able to attend the potluck again, it’s still crunch time on the homestead, but I hope you all have a wonderful time.

  76. @Robert Mathiesen, agreed on that. I tend to attribute that “reaching out” by the route of the gods, those that are closest to The (otherwise inapproachable) One. Different paths for different folks. Agreed also on esoteric practices…like anything, it’s practice. Train, train, train…and then, sometimes suddenly, results.

    On the main theme of this post: In the book Scale, Geoffrey West from the Santa Fe Institute notes some weird correlations regarding scale (including, ha, the strange recurrence of the “magic” numbers 3 and 4). But among the ideas is that humans likely cannot extend the life of their physical body beyond ~120 years. This is evidently due not to the way we normally count age, by years, but instead by heartbeats. Per West, every mammal that arose via natural selection (exception is dogs) will have, barring trauma or disease, roughly the same number of heartbeats. The difference is the scale of their bodies: mice, with very small bodies and corresponding organs, have a crazy fast pulse. Elephants, with their larger bodies by scale, have correspondingly slower pulses. Human beings somewhere in the middle, but we’ve been able to optimize that by devising systems to minimize trauma and otherwise keep the body relatively healthy. I could be botching the technical details, so forgive me, but that’s the gist of it. Interesting theory.

    Which leads me to the whole Egyptian process of death, which is to me both repellent and alluring (what kid isn’t fascinated by this stuff? Seems like a phase for every grade schooler). JMG has alluded to this in the path, but it seems as if their systems were aiming to, I dunno, somehow preserve the etheric body and physical body…? But then what becomes of the soul and mind…? Rampant speculation on my part, but seems freaky, and interesting with respect to the diversity of approaches to physical mortality. If anybody has recommendations on (occult or otherwise) readings on it, please advise. I’ll stay for my allotted decades, if the gods allow, and bow out…

    RE: The “burnt-over district,” there is a weird and compelling vibe in that area of the country…


  77. Joscelyn Godwin devoted an entire book to esotericism in upstate New York: Upstate Cauldron (2015). It’s quite good.

  78. Archdruid,

    I feel like all this experimentation is leading toward an americanized version of Taoist alchemy. I wonder if in 500 years or so if there won’t be some sage like figure wandering the western deserts, who can trace their weird life span back to figures like this.



  79. Just random thoughts – I do not wish to live forever. My ego would get in the way of absorbing anything really new after a century or so. Just give me 80 or 90 years of healthy life. I say this at the age of 70 having realized that 90% of what I think or say is BS and further improvement is quite slow. The remainder of 10% is enough.

    The point of celibacy is not always about life extension. Rather it is often about gaining spiritual insights – that I can agree with. That thought led to me to Castaneda. He may have been a trickster but his writings were brilliant on many levels. My spiritual encounters and especially in dreams confirm much of what he has written. For what it’s worth, I have achieved a degree plenitude by seeking anonymity and following a path with heart.

    I recommend the book “Getting Castanada: Understanding Carlos Castanda”. The author’s analysis of Castanada’s writing show a consistency of message throughout all of his books. Castanada certainly has many detractors yet their motivations often seem born of jealously over his literary success or a desire to deny anything magical.

  80. Dear Robert,

    Many thanks for the explanation of the point! The difference between the kataphatic approach and the apophatic was something that I totally overlooked — it makes sense that there’s a difference between reading someone’s ideas and entering into spiritual communion. That distinction also makes sense of the gurus who can bestow powers on their chelas apohatically, something that doesn’t quite make sense within the kataphatic paradigm. Also thank you for the link to Dionysius the Aeropagite. Frankly I found it astounding how much his discourse reminded me of Vedic literature. The difference of these two approaches also helps me organize some of my own experiences with magic, which I see has, at times, been more towards the one or the other. And, so again, many thanks, Robert!

  81. @JMG Fascinating hidden history. I’ve driven by Applegate many times on the way to Tahoe. Other than the obvious natural beauty, I wonder what it is about that part of Northern California. There’s the Druid “California Grove No. 1” monument is in nearby Placerville. Also, the controversial Asatru Folk Assembly is headquarted in Grass Valley.

  82. “Occultists aren’t supposed to behave like that, according to the standard rationalist rhetoric these days. They aren’t supposed to test hypotheses against the evidence from experiments and make up their own minds on that basis.”

    Well, it’s just occurred to me that the way this rhetoric is deployed is remarkably similar to cases of shadow projection. Which seems to explain an awful lot of the rhetoric directed our way in general……..

  83. @Fra’ Lupo:

    Theologia Mystica, being the treatise of Saint Dionysius pseudo-Areopagite on mystical theology, together with the first and fifth epistles, translated from the Greek with an introduction by Alan W. Watts (West Park, NY: Holy Cross Press, 1944; 40 pp.).

    A PDF seems to be available on

    Later Watts put out a revised edition: Sausilito, CA: Society for Comparative Philosophy, 1971; 33 pp. It apparently formed vol. 1, nos. 3-4, in the new series of something called The Alan Watts Journal. (This last is from the online comprehensive library catalog known as “WorldCat.” I haven’t found a PDF of either the Journal or the separate revised edition anywhere; they both seem to be excessively rare.)

  84. About immortality. I read the Star Trek novels (guilty pleasure). In the Deep Space Nine series, they featured a new character for the novels – a 100 year old Starfleet Officer. The author who added him to the “Relaunch” series in the early 2000s wanted to explore what an older person would experience in Starfleet. The character later died of old age – about 105.

    So I think that in the underside of their brains, the techno-sci-fi people knew the limits of human beings.

    I do believe that the modern search for immortality as others pointed out probably has to do with the Myth of Progress (i.e. to infinity and beyond!) I was watching the modern version of the “Outer Limits” on our local antenna sci fi channel. They feature the usual freezing of bodies, etc, etc, cloning etc as ways of extending life. However, one of the early episodes featured the usual scientist finding the magic formula. However, his businessman (businessmen are usually the bad guys) stole the formula to cure his Huntington’s Disorder. At first things seem fine, but then…… his body aged until he was begging his brother to put him out of his misery. The moral was something about the search for immortality is unnatural.

    Again, I think that in the underside of their brains, the techno-sci-fi people knew the limits of human beings.

  85. JMG and Commentariate

    Louis Khan, American architect that built the Bangladesh parliamentary building, among other things, reminds me a bit of Butler in behavior with his first family. Khan created incredible buildings combining modern and ancient designs.

    Khan also seemingly abandoned his first family as discussed on the film on his life ‘My Architect’. This film was created by his second child, his son, who was also essentially abandoned.

    Khan built buildings for Council, Butler built communes for occultism. Both are somewhat immortalized in their works however both left behind a legacy of suffering in their personal lives. This behavior is abhorrent; the conscious neglect of your own children. I wonder about the kind of narcissism present in these men’s personality and how much it seeped into their works. I assume while pulling away from earthly responsibilities they perhaps in some ways attempted to compensate by trying to help humanity. Their work exists and is noteworthy, a part of history, and I understand the universe likely doesn’t care that much. However I feel that their stories could also be examples of dangerously selfish paths wherein karmic blowback is perhaps unmeasurable in relation to their work. This polarity is a good bit to meditate on I guess.

  86. Read somewhere that there were two factors behind the Burned Over District. One was that western upstate NY had just recently opened up to settlement. It wasn’t quite the frontier, but the place just behind the frontier that was established enough to have more order than the frontier itself but where there was still a lot of opportunity. The California of its day. Joseph Smith’s family moving there from rocky Vermont was typical.
    Second, family structure was changing – and earlier in the newer areas than the older. This is when what we now think of as traditional families started. Before that, there was less emphasis on affection among family members. Families were more about breaking the little monsters into good Christians. Puritans used to farm their teens out to each other as servants because they knew that people would be harder on other’s children than on their own.

  87. @Ian

    I’m actually kind of unimpressed by the Bangladeshi parliament building. Its not the worst Brutalism has to offer, but its still Brutalism, in all its blocky, imposing, drab, cement-well, “glory” is probably not the right word here.

    What makes the whole thing sad, to my mind, is that Bangladesh, as a South Asian country, is heir to Indian and Islamic architectural traditions that consistently produce more beautiful buildings than the West does-and of course, are orders of magnitude more beautiful than the 20th century modernism that Louis Kahn represents. Its extremely telling that Le Corbusier-a man who committed more crimes against architecture than anyone in history-once framed his work as a rejection of those decadent, childish Byzantine and Islamic schools of architecture that believe that buildings should be, you know, decorated and made beautiful so that they’re pleasant places to live in, work, and visit. No, instead we got “pure function” combined with the delusion that bare unpainted concrete is somehow appealing to look at.

    Now that I think about it, the whole story of a Modernist American architect going to Bangladesh and building a giant Brutalist carbuncle just a few miles from the crumbling remains of achingly beautiful Mughal architecture is the perfect metaphor for the 20th century.

  88. JMG, I can’t blame you for passing on TV. Some folks here might like it though. I thought the series was too bleak personally. Social realism with a dystopian twist is not for me. I I will note that most media can just be streamed and unless you are in the boondocks if you aren’t watching something its because you don’t want to. Its an eminently sensible thing to do if you ask me. They do call it programming for a reason after all.

    Now re: life extension. I’m not especially sanguine about the possibility but science unlike mysticism has a chance, albeit a small one of pulling it off . I think its about 10% at most but at least it can be tested, falsified and repeated Assuming it wasn’t subject to the replication problem, aka scientists lying their backsides off , it has apparently been possible to tweak telomeres in mice and slow again and replace aging tissue in various ways. My guess is we will collapse before its possible but I could be wrong.

    Otherwise its another turn on the wheel I guess.

  89. All this talk of immortality reminds me of my Texas History class in 8th grade. At the time, I lived in Texas and this was the standard 8th grade history class, back in the 80s. Now that I think of it, it could have been high school American History. Either way, I remember that the Spaniards that landed in Florida and trekked to Texas were seeking two things: gold (of course), and the Fountain of Youth. The conquistador that led them was named Ponce de León.

  90. @Tolkienguy

    I can take that perspective in… Giant brutalist carbuncle lol. The pictures and images in the documentary look better to me at least then my walk through the brutalist buildings at Simon Frasier University in B.C… how anyone could learn in that environment is beyond me.
    The pictures of the Parliament building resonate with a certain mystique I thought that brings images of great collosal temples to mind, though I have never travelled in Asia, and only have western impressions of that part of the world.
    Khan did go into massive debt to build his monuments… the impressions of it’s likability to the local public is entirely colored in my mind solely by the documentary and sparse research I have done on the man. Of course his son, the writer and director of the doc, likely sought out only positive views of this work; politicians crying and speaking about how Khan was a spiritual person on camera.
    At least it is apparent he thought he was doing the world a favor, and wrapped in this thought I suspect he believed he was doing himself a favor as well. Creating a temple parliament or whatever for the poor people to boost himself. I might make the same observation for Butler as well. His intention to help others spun around an intention to grant himself immortality. Both of them consciously or unconsciously making a play on redemption perhaps.

  91. I just looked at the linked photos of the Bangladesh Parliament Building. To me its design conveys the simple message of overwhelming hostile force: “Submit or die!” (“Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.”) Ugh!

  92. Robert, hmm! I’ll definitely have to check it out.

    Varun, or at least there will be pervasive rumors of mysterious figures to be found in the mountains of the west who live for thousands of years.

    Patient Observer, oh, there’s plenty to be said for celibacy as a spiritual practice, if you feel called to it. My point is simply that it won’t make you live forever. As for Castaneda, I learned a great deal from him, and I know other people who’ve also benefited from studying him — the mere fact that he was a trickster, and invented a Yaqui shaman to provide a fictive source for his own spiritual insights, doesn’t change the value of those insights. (As Richard De Mille pointed out in The Don Juan Papers, authenticity and validity are not the same thing.)

    Brian, interesting. I haven’t spent any significant amount of time in that part of California, though Mount Shasta further north is seriously weird!

    Mollari, good. It is indeed.

    Neptune’s Dolphins, I suspect you’re right.

    Ian, er, what a stunningly ugly building. I don’t find it incredible at all; bleak concrete slabs with a little pro forma decoration cut into them, so the architect can pretend to have noticed less barren and lifeless modes of architecture, is all too credible these days.

    Jessica, those are certainly factors.

    Your Kittenship, well, I certainly had a good time!

    Simon, yes, I’m familiar with the mouse studies. Again, people have been attempting to apply such findings to human beings since the 1970s, with zero success. As for “science unlike mysticism has a chance,” er, I wonder if you realize how arrogant and dismissive that sounds…

    Clark, I recall a very funny Gary Larson cartoon in which Ponce de Leon and his men found the Fountain of Ugliness instead. 😉

  93. I hope everyone who attended the picnic yesterday had a wonderful time! We had planned to come, but our boys decided to drive up from Pennsylvania as a surprise for their dad on Father’s Day weekend and we couldn’t miss that. We hope to make it next year!

  94. Ian – Re: the Bangladesh Parliament… I also saw the “My Architect” film, and one of my concerns with the building is the large pools of water around it. Standing water. Mosquito-breeding water? Evaporating water (which must to some extent raise the local humidity level, and need replenishment). The mosquitoes could be controlled by poisoning the water with insecticide; then what unintended side-effects would THAT have? (On the other hand, a map of Dhaka shows lots of natural water, so maybe the Parliamentary lake isn’t a significant factor.)

    IIRC, inside the building, there is a massive concrete geometric form suspended like the Sword of Damocles over the unfortunate occupants of the building. His Exeter Library also has massive concrete structure overhead. There’s a photo here: says that the annual maintenance budget is $55 million! (It has 240 bathrooms, for 354 parliamentarian seats.)

    There’s a scene in the film where an architectural peer is asked to comment on one of Kahn’s project proposals, and the question unlocks a spittle-flinging diatribe that put both parties in a harsh light (to put it mildly).

    As for immortality, I think I’ve got it figured out. If I discover otherwise, though, I’ll be sure to let you know. 😉

  95. I have a story about science and life extension. Somewhere around 2006 or 2005 I ran into several articles about the British scientist Aubrey de Grey. He is a Cambridge professor and one of the leading life extension thinkers/Researchers. He thinks it is possible to cure aging and extend life out to 1000 years or some such length. I ran across several articles about him and also saw a 60 minutes interview with him. He is a very sticking fellow with a bread that might make our gracious host envious. I was still pretty much a progressive at that point and really wrestled with those ideas for some time. What would it mean to live that long.
    Then by chance or maybe Synchronicity a few months later I sat next to him at a bar in Monterrey CA. He had a large group around him and I was to shy to say hello. So I just listened. He drank a lot of beer and was pretty drunk. It seemed like if he did that very much he would not even live to be a normal old man. So I was not worried about his ideas any more.

  96. Many years ago I read a story by Paul Gallico about a group of people seeking immortality. They had traveled to the Middle East in the belief that the biblical stories about long-lived people like Methuselah were factual, and that their extended lifespan was due to a plant which grew there in those times. And they actually found the plant. But there was a catch — of course, otherwise there wouldn’t be a story — but I’m damned if I can remember what the catch was, or the title of the story. :o(

  97. @Robert Mathiesen in a dangerous time? 😉

    (With apologies to Bruce Cockburn, but I prefer the Barenaked Ladies, who picked their name solely so they could make that joke of having “Barenaked Ladies! Tonight Only!” on marquees. And that’s why they got nowhere in the States during the 90’s…).

  98. @Ian Duncombe was it general knowledge that SFU has the highest student suicide rate in Canada when you were there?

    They banned letting students stay over Christmas break on campus at one point when I was at UBC in the early oughts, not sure if they still do.

  99. With regard to the exaggerated prudery of the Victorians, I can easily see the reaction against Darwin as a factor, but I also want to suggest the reaction against the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Now, this theory has several steps, so bear with me. In the wake of the mutiny, the Imperial government began to mistrust the loyalty of their colonial populations and became reluctant to depend on them militarily, so they stepped up conscription of poor Englishmen into Her Majesty’s armed forces. This left a lot of poor Englishwomen at loose ends. They were expected to go into factory work, but the working conditions were so bad, in the sense of life-shortening, that the women were actually better off in prostitution. (George Bernard Shaw wrote a notorious play about it, “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” first produced in 1892. In it, the title character, one of four sisters born to a poor family, tells of how two of her sisters chose chastity and factory work and, as a consequence, died young. One of the only lines from a play that I still remember more than forty years after I read it was about the sister who worked in a white lead factory. “She thought she’d only get a little paralysis in her hands but she died.”) Prostitution was thus a threat to the profits of factory owners because it gave poor women an alternative, so crusading for chastity and against prostitution became a thing among the factory-owning class. Personal and household prudery was a way of telling the world that this crusading was not the matter of naked economic self-interest that it in fact was.

    Additionally, for the insecure lower middle class, chastity was a luxury good for display, a status marker, a way of distinguishing themselves from the vast population of women on the bottom.

  100. I actually got kind of curious about the Le Corbusier quote excoriating Middle Eastern architecture (I remembered reading it on a BBC article, but couldn’t remember the exact words), but fortunately it was easy enough to find on Wikipedia:

    [Le Corbusier] condemned the exotic styles presented at the Exposition based on the art of China, Japan, India and Persia. “It takes energy today to affirm our western styles.” He criticized the “precious and useless objects that accumulated on the shelves” in the new style. He attacked the “rustling silks, the marbles which twist and turn, the vermilion whiplashes, the silver blades of Byzantium and the Orient…Let’s be done with it!”

    How someone who would have had access to perfectly good photographs of the Taj Mahal, the Masjed-e-Shah in Esfahan, Iran, or the interior of any Greek Orthodox church, can say things like that just boggles the mind. How in all the hells does someone look at traditionally designed Catholic churches (consistently the most beautiful category of building the west has produced), and go, “nope, I’m building this instead! I don’t understand it.

  101. If I remember correctly, one problem with the mouse studies was that the food they gave the control group was mouse junk food. So there is no way to know if the low calories were keeping one group alive or the poor food was killing off the other one.

    Yes, the historical/sociological factors behind the Burnt Over District are not the only ones. When I drove through the area at age 19, I was struck by a particular kind of beauty.

  102. Hi JMG thanks for the post!

    Today I think the fear to death is related to the fear to be old, very old, as happens, I think, to all late civilizations where the tradition is lost and the “barbarism of reflection” takes the place of the wisdom of the previous generations. When the society become “inorganic”, it become also very hostile to the children and the old people, the human being start and end their days sorrounded by strangers that look with disgust the hour when they have to clean their as*e*.

    “Old” today is a nasty word, and the people do not expect anything positive from the old people, because they are “obsolete”, they are not fully adapted to the modern world, so there is more “wisdom” in a smart-phone than in all the books or thoughts of all those “old-fashioned” people of the past. What matters is technology and money (it is the same at the end), and to be flexible and adaptable to it, for this purpose all the old “sermons” are worthless.

    This is how civlizations always end.

    This society reminds me the dynamic of the warbands (dark) periods, when the tribes abandon the burial of the deads, and the cremation is adopted, as a way to erase the memory and conditioning of the ancestors (always asking to respect tradition), because those were times of young chieftains leading the human group to unknown places,of disruptions (technological also, fighting against unknown people in uncertain times, fogeting any advices from the old voices (alive or dead).

    This also reminds me the Disney film “Coco” where the (mexican) deads were still “alive” in the other world if there is still someone alive who remember them; I think in our time may be the epidemy of Alzheimer in nursing homes is a consequence or reaction to the thought that nobody really remembers you, nobody really cares about you, so to erase memory may be is a defense mechanism. “No country for old men” (as the title of other film says).

    So the peope in Sillicon Valley are even more exposed to this kind of fear, because they are in the center of the changes and disruptions, in the center of our inorganic society, full aware of their future fate, so their pathetic quest for ethernal youth and their “heresy” of Futurism (Transhumanism)

    All of this, of course, is part of the “progress”


  103. “with him as with so many Victorian thinkers—sin, for Butler, referred to one thing and one thing only: sex.”

    I know you are writing a novel set in Victorian times. Can you explain how “good” Christians of that era managed to scrap 6 of the 7 deadly sins so they could focus solely on lust? I have been learning more about the Irish “famine” which happened when “British” citizens (as they were supposed to be then) were allowed to starve to death while tons of food was being exported daily from Ireland. The common refrain of the “good” Victorians was that the “famine” was “brought on by their own wickedness and folly”.

  104. The quest for immortality is in itself a sign of a primitive, naive soul thinking a life among the humans is all you can hope for.
    More experienced souls would rather glide through human life, get their life plan done with and bug out as soon as possible in a semi-karmless fashion.

    Even the Atlanteans eventually found out immortality caused more problems than the ones it supposedly solved.

  105. Hi JMG,

    Feel free to delete. Might not be as on topic as you want. I’ll try to remember during your AMA post. I was thinking of the desire to attain immortality by restricting the procreative urges and actions. I’ve also been thinking about climate change and our atmospheric commons. I was wondering if this could be a metaphor for our proposed responses to climate change. Specifically conservation or our attempt to transmute our energy expenditure from fossil fuels to other sources. It seems to me that we can restrict all we want, but it won’t make our energy based society live forever. We have an expiration date, period. Of course that also seems really nihilistic so I’m rather skeptical of my thoughts on this and think O might be missing a big component. I also got to thinking about this because of the popularity of the UFO stories at the moment. I was thinking that the stories were the beginnings of scare tactics where the governments of the world would have to use even more control on their populations because of this new very powerful unknown in our midst. But then started wondering if it will be used as a counter narrative- we don’t know all the laws of physics we don’t know all the limits so maybe we haven’t reached ours. We just need to know the “new” rules and we can continue on our road to endless progress.

    Just wondered about your or any of the commentariat’s thoughts on this.

    Hope everyone had a great time at the pot luck!


  106. Violet,

    With regards to the similarity between Dionysius the Aeropagite and Vedic literature, you might enjoy the book, “The Shape of Ancient Thought,” by Thomas McEvilley.

    He has the honor of irritating both Western historians and Indian historians. His thesis is that pre-Socratic philosophers learned much through several centuries of Greek encounters with Vedic culture via Persia. Then, the Greeks improved a few ideas and returned the favor by bringing their ideas to India via Alexander.

    It’s an incredible work.

  107. With regards to modern architecture, one thing I discovered is that the Bauhaus group, Corbusier and other people at the time were reacting against the Renaissance classic revival that had been running on fumes for quite some time. There was a high level of disgust from many artists after WWI. For a hundred years, the elites of Europe were bragging about their cultural superiority, only for it to crash and burn in the most devastating war in human history at that time. Many artists wanted nothing to do with that pre-war world, so they went about and created their own. Modern architecture is the result. I think it is more reactionary than anything else, but there is definitely a technocratic feel for it, along the lines of The Shape of Things to Come by HG Wells. In the movie, at least, a technocratic elite ends all human misery and sends us to the stars in a fantastic, Faustian way. Technocrats are not good with art.

    The same thing happened in the US. Wright, Sullivan and a few others were trying to create a modern architecture, free from the classicism of the Renaissance and something uniquely American. Wright turned to nature as his guide. Sullivan’s buildings were quite beautiful, even the skyscrapers before WWII were pretty.

    Today, most city skylines are identical, with glass and steel towers. Amazon recently built the ugliest headquarters I have ever seen. It isn’t even an attempt to look like something more than a glass box. I often wonder why people think they are beautiful, and then, I think, they probably don’t. When they see the skyline, they aren’t looking at the buildings, they are looking at the “shiny future” and all the wonders that it will bring. Magic indeed!

  108. Beekeeper, see you next yeat!

    Will, that doesn’t surprise me one bit.

    Martin, interesting. I haven’t read it, but it sounds fun.

    Joan, hmm! That makes a lot of sense.

    Tolkienguy, one of the basic driving forces behind the artistic (or rather anti-artistic) movement I’ve called Uglicism — in which Le Corb was one of the architectural banner-bearers — seems to have been a gut-level hatred of beauty. I think it was driven by a conviction that life and the world was ugly to its core and so every form of beauty was a lie.

    Jessica, that was one of the ways the studies were gimmicked, yes. One of the reasons why there’s a replicability crisis in science these days is that so many scientists are willing to do sleazy little tricks like that to get results that will get them into a journal.

    DFC, that makes sense. I think also that a lot of it is that here in the US, the baby boom generation is clinging to power in the political and cultural spheres long after the age at which previous generations have retired and let a younger generation take charge.The Boomers are terrified of letting go, and the fantasy of immortality is one of the ways they pretend to themselves that they can stay in power forever.

    Bridge, that’s the flip side of the fixation on sex. If your society depends on six of the seven deadly sins, you can make a huge deal of the seventh and pretend that you’re still virtuous.

    Peter, I like “karmless”! An elegant portmanteau word.

    Candace, interesting. I think you may be on to something regarding climate change. As for the UFO business, well, I’ve had quite a few people insist that I’m wrong about the future of industrial society, because the existence of UFOs proves that civilizations can reach a level at which interstellar travel becomes possible. People will believe anything rather than let go of their fantasy of perpetual progress…

  109. Robert, Yorkshire, JMG
    Yes I see it now. It looks like the place of a reoccurring nightmare😐

    Yeah I sure wouldn’t want to work underneath those concrete crosses. Definitely overwhelming and strange.
    Oh I guess it is incredible then… Incredibly expensive. In your description you make it sound like a moored cruise ship.
    I remember the scene your referencing as well. His colleague was adamant Khan had nothing to do with the way the Philadelphia skyline looked. The power games of the elites..lots of vehemence I guess. Who gets to put their fingerprint on the city skyline and confirm their legacy?? I’m picturing an old retired architect atop the Chrysler building muttering to himself while peering at his city “Look what I did… look what man can do.”

    I do remember hearing that although I can’t pinpoint from where, I had family that lived out that way for a while. I was out there in 2003. I remember the place looked like a concrete reconstruction of fallen star destroyers from the Empire, but not in a good/fun way. Heavy energy for sure…bleak.
    I was happy to return to the rugged wilderness of Bishop’s University in Quebec that was built out of an old Anglican Parish.

    I agree, the inside of the Catholic churches I was permitted inside of in Poland were incredible works of art.
    Your comparison is hilarious by the way. I feel you have made a ‘concrete’ points here about Brutalism. You seem to have good material here for a comedy coffee table book on the Idiocy of Western Imperial Architecture.😆

  110. I’m not sure why everyone’s talking about the Bangladeshi Parliament building. That’s clearly MiniLuv, in good old Airstrip One.

  111. Hi John Michael,

    Happy solstice to you and Sara! 🙂

    Fancy that huh, coming up with a theory, putting it to the test, discovering that the theory doesn’t stack up against the available experience and observations, and then drawing conclusions as to the theory. It’s downright positively scientific! 🙂

    Mate, those stories about hairy palms and/or going blind were recounted to me as a kid. Unfortunately, the adults around me failed to spend the requisite time indoctrinating me, so I ended up thinking my own thoughts. It’s an awful situation, for them at least. 😉 Anyway, their talk and admonitions in relation to sex, at best sounded hypocritical to me, and at worst utterly malicious, and I have a hunch that a lot of evil has flowed from those admonitions over the many long years.

    It kind of reminds me of the talk from the wowsers who enjoy browbeating the population over alcohol consumption. It is a rare day when there is not an article to be found in the newspapers berating the general population – and particularly women – over any consumption of the drink. Potentially alcohol can be a problem and I’m not making light of that, but it has been remarked upon elsewhere that some people can turn their yoga sessions into an addiction. And you never really know what a person’s personal triggers will be.

    I don’t believe that these sorts of admonitions have good intentions at their core, it strikes me that they may be a grab for power and control, but I don’t really know. What do you reckon about this situation?



  112. Hi John Michael,

    Ook! I just recalled a curious off topic thought which popped into my head the other day and I was curious to share with you and see what you thought of it. And I do hope that you will indulge me? 🙂

    Anyway, I visited the city the other day, and due to the repeated, extended and rather unpredictable lock downs here due to a certain unnamed health matter, the city was eerily quiet. Needless to say, down here for some unknown reason we’ve had more lock downs, and for longer than pretty much anywhere else on the planet. It’s been super weird.

    What interests me is that going on in the background the authorities are dismantling the ageing base load fossil fuel electricity generators – and certainly there is a bit of agitation for that process to continue. The very same people seem to have a lot of excitement about renewable energy technologies – of which I have had firsthand experience living with for over a dozen years. I well understand the intermittency issues (note that it is the winter solstice here so this issue is on my mind). But then I had this really weird insight in that if the economy can also be expressed as the available energy per capita, then intermittency issues would produce this sort of weird stop-start (rinse and repeat) day to day experience that we seem to be firmly in the grips of. And then that thought sort of expanded a little bit (as I’m trying to make sense of this entire experience), and it is possible that the policy choices made are turning out to be a really weird experiment. I mean any reduction in energy per capita is bound to change the social fabric and arrangements, and whilst it is inevitable that this will happen, it is possible that the short term outcomes of this process is genuinely unknown. Dunno, just an odd thought I had the other day.



  113. I think also that a lot of it is that here in the US, the baby boom generation is clinging to power in the political and cultural spheres long after the age at which previous generations have retired and let a younger generation take charge.The Boomers are terrified of letting go, and the fantasy of immortality is one of the ways they pretend to themselves that they can stay in power forever.

    My counter-point to this is that one of the main reasons the Boomers still run everything is because all the succeeding generations let them. This applies across the West, as shown by the voting totals in the French regional elections that happened just this weekend. Look at who turned out to vote:

    As long as it’s only the boomers who truly value voting, then it is the boomers who will continue to control the direction of travel. Bad as the boomers are, their successors are even more irresponsibly pathetic.

  114. In the realm of ideas, Le Corbusier was as monstrous as any twentieth-century figure. The man was strange and fanatical; he had a horror of living things and their forms, finding them pestilent and unclean. His architecture was a symptom of this disorder, akin to repetitive hand-washing, and our cities are now cracked and blistered by this activity. The technocracy that came to embrace this aesthetic is a form of maltheism, I think. These gods do not like us.

  115. @Cliff – for fans of Lois McMasters Bujold – it’s the Barryaran ImpSec Building, one of the two major works commissioned by Mad Emperor Yuri and designed by his architect Lord Dono Vorrutyer. The other was the capitol’s Municipal Stadium.

    The architect retired when Yuri was assassinated, and spent his dotage putting up unspeakable buildings on his children’s property.

    As for ImpSec, when a later act of sabotage sent tons of water underneath the building, people came from all around to watch it slowly sinking into the mud, to everyone’s great glee. In the hearing that followed, the retired Chief of Impsec valued the building at “One Betan dollar, if you can find a Betan with such bad taste.

  116. Regarding the connection between architecture and immortality, Shelly’s poem Ozymandias comes to mind.

    Also there’s an interesting trend in contemporary architecture connected to the Kabbalistic idea of the breaking of the vessels.

    “The Breaking of the Vessels is an idea that is both conceptual and visual, and is close to the recent Deconstructivist Movement in architecture that sought to mirror the fragmentary nature of contemporary culture in three-dimensional form.”

  117. As an architect who went to school in the 70s, I was immersed in the worship of Kahn and Le Corbusier. One of my professors and my father in law (both architects) had photos of themselves as young men with Le Corbusier prominent in their offices. I fell for the hype to the extent that I bought a Chaise longue by Le Corbusier. It looks as if it would be soooo comfortable, and it is, for the first 20 minutes or so. But then, since you are held rigidly in one angle, you want to move a little, but you can’t. When you get up, you’re too close to the floor, so it’s extremely awkward climbing out of the low point, while the chair slides back and forth on the curved rails. It makes an acceptable place to stack the laundry baskets, but somewhat expensive for the purpose.
    I’ve visited several of Corbu’s works, and only one shows any real respect for the user: the chapel of Notre Dame Du Haut at Ronchamp. The space is suffused with indirect light, and establishes a sense of reverie. OTOH, his early modern houses are notorious for being cold, damp, and generally unlivable.
    Since this started as a post on immortality, all this talk of reinforced concrete is a sly comment on the folly of believing in the promise of the New! And Improved!. Reinforced concrete turns out to have a relatively short lifespan, as moisture eventually works its way into the steel rebar, and the rusting rebar expands, cracking the concrete. It’s remarkably unsuitable for major infrastructure, such as bridges. If you want your bridge to last 2083 years (and counting), build it of stone mortared together, as was done by Lucius Fabricius, the curator for roads in the City of Rome.
    For those interested, we had an enjoyable potluck, with no (really! no!) potato salad. We guests from far (Lunar Apprentice from Bellingham WA) and near, and were able to free up a lot of space in JMG’s book storage, so he has room for new books. Mark 2 PM, June 18, 2022 on your calendar!
    ps: I’m the Khan, he’s the Kahn.

  118. @Ian “the place looked like a concrete reconstruction of fallen star destroyers from the Empire, but not in a good/fun way.”

    I am shamelessly stealing this.

  119. JMG – your referencing Carlos Castaneda as a ‘trickster’ who nevertheless had quite a few esoteric truths to his credit (an assessment which I formed when I read a book or two of his back in my late teens) reminded me that over the course of the 20 century, North America has had quite a few such trickster figures. Ones who immediately pop into my head are Lobsang Rampa (Cyril Henry Hoskin, born 1910) and Grey Owl (Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, born 1888), both of whom were English immigrants. Grey Owl is so famous in Canada that we have public schools named after him (not bad for a fake Indigenous guy!); however, so far I have not come across a “Lobsang Rampa Public School” (it sure would be a hoot if there is one!). Granted, Grey Owl was more about conservation than the occult, but my understanding is that his ‘Indigenous wisdom’ was pretty deep…

    While the trickster phenomenon is an inherent part of the occult, claiming to come from some mythical ancient lineage (cough cough – some druid and wiccan orders – cough cough) or visiting ascended masters (cough cough – Blavatsky – cough cough) is one thing; making up one’s ethnic/cultural background is another thing entirely – i.e., a more extreme manifestation of trickster-ism. Man – if somebody tried this kind of stuff these days, they would probably end up serving some hard time for cultural appropriation!

    Anyway… just some passing thoughts…

  120. @ Martin Beck #106.

    The novel you are looking for by Paul Gallico is “The Foolish Immortals.” He published it in 1953 and there should be many copies floating around, either via the interlibrary loan or from a used book dealer.

  121. I was thinking about your hypotheses that Darwin made the Victorians uncomfortably aware that we’re still animals no matter how nice our architecture, fashions, and music are.

    It occurred to me that, perhaps!, one reason why so many technogeeks adore the Singularity and uploading their consciousness to the cloud is because it allows them to stop being animals.

    Not only can animals not upload their consciousness, but you get the added bonus of discarding that messy, smelly, meat and piss sack.

    No animal connection is left at all.

  122. JMG, its not meant as dismissive. I apologize if it came off as such.

    I’ve done a fair share of both mysticism and science. Stopping human aging in this dimension is a biological engineering problem albeit a very difficult one. It has more in common with building a bridge than the nature of the soul.

    We have some understanding and a few tools but thus far. I suspect this society will collapse long before anything major happens. Any aging drugs we get won’t breach maximum lifespan though a better old age is possible. The spiritual disciplines would come in very handy here and some of them, aestheticism were even on the right track if the science is to be believed.

    On top greed and information hoarding will probably stop it. Everyone wants to think they have The Solution and we get the billions which its a multiphasic problem.

    Also the culture of science is borked badly enough in places that you can’t actually announce breakthroughs if they do happen

    Taken at face value University of Seattle reported a few years ago they made a material that operates like negative mass material not that we are saying is negative mass material.”

    If true this means you made a ,material that allows for pseudo reactionless drives and grav plates like in SF.

    And note its not hoaky, Physicist Dr. Robert Forward theorized that such material could exists and does not violate the laws of physics.

    Its a big deal if true but the absolute terror our society has of change cripples research.

    You have to soft talk around a lot of ideas and can’t actually pursue directing aging research even on volunteers. This is stupid and the contradiction between our Faustian society and it frustrating.

    Understandable, the people at the top hate change and want everything to be static for them to stay on top. Its still a contradiction that is bad for society If we are going static than just do it, everyone would be happier without the last 50 years of socials changes.

    This is why people like Elon Musk. He just plows ahead and feeds the faith in science you often speak of. Of course this being Faustian means we get stupid things like Hyperloop and evil things like Neuro Link.

    Rant aside, the opposite end of the spectrum is stuff like History Channels The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch where degreed scientists openly discuss dimensional incursions , energy anomalies and UFOS

    I can’t help but laugh when I visit friends and watch the show . Its a Call of Cthulhu campaign IRL . All scientists except the one edgy guy (actually nicknamed Dragon) who wants to play the security but still has a high IQ stat (2d6+6) and common sense

    Even has a semi mysterious patron . NPC ranch hands and walk ons. Its just needs a Byakhee or Mi Go and some tentacles to since things up.

    Immortality in the spiritual context is another ball of wax and I’m not commenting on it since I simply lack the knowledge base.

  123. Since somebody posted that article in The Atlantic, and since we’re talking about the Brutalist revolt against all beauty and the pre-WWI-past, let David Kaiser join the discussion here. Because I see the same sort of revolt in what Packer calls Just America and you all have been calling the Woke Left.

    Kaiser missed the fact that Packer – and I – do recognize that it’s a generational revolt, even as the post-WWI artistic trends were. Both signal a damaged generation.

  124. Hi Phil,

    As long as it’s only the boomers who truly value voting, then it is the boomers who will continue to control the direction of travel.

    I beg to disagree with you. Down under voting is compulsory for the adult population at risk of fines, and turn out rates for voting are well into the high 90%. I’d call that a statistically valid sample, and yet down here it is same, same. It is not polite to say that you are wrong, but in this particular case the facts don’t lend weight to your argument.



  125. @ Ian Duncombe #92 (June 19 at 2:31 pm): re Bangladesh parliamentary building – very pretty (though conventional) setting – the whole effect is something like lace and barbed wire. Does fit into the theme of seeking immortality – those who seek it imagine it as lace (green pastures and flowering trees) but would find barbed wire (gray prison fortresses with dark dungeons).

  126. I thought it would have been mentioned by now that the futility of a quest for immortality is one of the motifs of literally the oldest preserved narrative we know of. The first (surviving) cautionary tale of many, from all different cultures.

    I was thinking of Gilgamesh a few weeks ago while reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a massive fanfic by uber-rationalist Eliezer Yudkowsky. It’s fun to read how Yudkowsky’s version of Harry reacts to all the cruel absurdities of Rowling’s “wizarding world” (slavery, torture prisons, poorly designed ball games, etc.), but it gets weird when he goes off into how death is the worst thing in the universe and the ultimate enemy of all humanity, and every moment anyone with power spends doing anything besides figuring out how to use the wizarding world’s magic to end death is a waste of time. (Human destiny among the stars is also discussed.) This one’s no cautionary tale. Though we don’t see Harry overcome death in the fanfic, he’s on track to succeed eventually. It’s unintentionally quite chilling while clearly intended to be uplifting, kind of like that building in Bangladesh.

    To anyone finding death as repellent as Yudkowsky apparently does, I suggest walking through a forest, and contemplating this: the same amount of solar energy captured by that forest ecosystem around you could instead be captured by a thin algae-like film covering the bare rock. Among such permanent placid slime there would be no need for stems, trunks, leaves, seeds, or flowers, let alone for animals like us. Those things all exist in the world because of struggle and death.

  127. Beekeeper

    “From the sources I’ve read, the requirement of celibacy was specifically instituted by Mother Ann herself.”

    The version I heard (perhaps apocryphal) is Mother Ann had a dream in which she saw Adam and Eve having sexual intercourse in the Garden, and concluded that was the Original Sin

    Makes a good story, at least.

    I’ve also read the circular saw was invented by a shaker woman named Tabitha Babbit.

    That might be a myth, too, but I like it.

    As most people know, the Shakers are famous for the simple elegance of the the furniture they manufactured. Shaker Chairs were designed to hang on pegs on the wall of the common room, to clear space for the Shaker dance (“By turning and turning we come round right, and meet in the valley of love and delight).

    Presumably the dance, at least in part, served the same purpose and Midnight Basketball for Catholic seminarians.

  128. klcooke:

    The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing acquired the name ‘Shaking Quakers’ and later simply ‘Shakers’ because of the ecstatic, frenzied dancing that was a feature of their meetings. In time the dances were choreographed and more regular in appearance. The guides at all the Shaker settlements we’ve visited point out that chairs – and quite a few other things – were specifically designed to make use of the wall pegs in order to reduce clutter, which, as a neat person living with a somewhat disorganized spouse (read: pack rat), I find particularly endearing. It’s really interesting how a sect, so grounded in the mystical and esoteric, could simultaneously be so practical and utilitarian with a list of innovations and inventions to its name that is long and solid, a lot of which is still in use today. Unlike the Amish, with whom a lot of people associate them, the Shakers were eager users of contemporary technology.

    The very first book I read about the Shakers, several decades ago, is Edward R. Horgan’s “The Shaker Holy Land: A Community Portrait”. It is primarily concerned with the settlements of Harvard and Shirley in Massachusetts, but admirably covers Shaker history and a good deal about the sect’s expansion into other parts of the country. It was published in 1982 so may no longer be in print, but interlibrary loan might be able to track down a copy for you and I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest.

    And yes, their furniture is simple and elegant and, if you can find real Shaker furniture for sale anywhere, now worth a small fortune.

    Given that American religious communities have become a part of this week’s topic, I’d also like to recommend Erik Reece’s book, “Utopia Drive: A Road Trip Through America’s Most Radical Idea”. The author embarked on a road trip through what remains of about a dozen or so (mostly) 19th century utopian communities and provides a good background in the history of each and what forces led to its eventual dissolution. Very interesting and very readable.

  129. Chris, good heavens — hairy palms and going blind were still the fashionable threats on Oz? When I was a kid in the Seattle suburbs nobody talked about masturbation at all. Mark Twain’s comment about how learning about masturbation was one of the major services religion provided to children was, alas, no longer true — we had to figure it out for ourselves. With regard to the motivation behind such exercises in rhetoric, that’s a good question; I think it was partly a function of people being control freaks, but beyond that, I’m not sure. As for the shifts toward intermittency, yes, I could see that. If so, it’s a good thing, because we’re all going to have to get used to shortages and blackouts anyway…

    Phil K, equally, when all the parties are controlled by Boomers and push Boomer-centric policies, the younger generations don’t exactly have an incentive to rush out and vote. They know perfectly well they just have to wait a while and let my generation die.

    Mbel, I don’t recall encountering the word “maltheism” before; thank you.

    Goldenhawk, I’m waiting for them to get around to noticing that after the breaking of the vessels, in Cabalistic theory, comes the establishment of an ordered and harmonious cosmos.

    Ron, now there’s a blast from the past! I never heard much about Grey Owl but T. Lobster Rampage, as my friends and I called him, had books all over the occult scene when I was first getting into it. The whole Neopagan scene was full of people who manufactured conveniently dead third-degree grannies to prop up their latest inventions, and yes, a lot of American Druid outfits also had roots that were about as stable as those of Birnam Wood. This is a Tricksterish continent, and it’s always attracted people who wanted to embody the archetype!

    Teresa, I think you may well be right!

    Simon, so noted. I think you’re incorrect in thinking that immortality is best approached as an engineering problem. That’s like the drunk in the old joke, who’s looking for his keys under the streetlight even though he dropped them in the alley — after all, under the streetlight he can see! Taoist, Tantric, and Gnostic experimentation along these lines focused on using the mind-body connections in the human individual to catalyze changes; whether they actually achieved great longevity by that means, it’s at least as promising an angle as trying to do the thing via brute force rationalist methods. As for the History Channel program, funny. I wonder if they’ll borrow some licks from the Haliverse…

    Patricia M, interesting. Thanks for this.

    Walt, well, there’s that! The fanfic sounds pretty ghastly, to be honest.

  130. @JMG, thank you for taking the time to remind me of some brighter examples of famous occultists. Baum, in particular, is a great example. Manly Hall is, from what I’ve read of him, another great example (Am I correct, you haven’t covered him yet?). And I mentioned you!:)

    I can suppose solid reasons for including many of the losers and criminals in the list. If nothing else, there is truth in advertising. I’m aware of more than a few in Christianity, and Buddhism, and I expect there are a reasonable share of darkly twisted souls in all religions. What can we say about those “holy men” who burned Bruno, Marguerite Porete, and many others: That’s sort of like “Kill a commie for Christ”; do they really think Jesus would approve?

    I guess I expect more of occultism, in some regards. It is, as you present it, along with Buddhism, supposedly about being MORE conscious, more aware of ramifications, and more contemplative, isn’t it? Maybe I am mistaken. The thing is, Christianity has Christ. Buddhism has Buddha. Who stands as the over-arching, guiding light in occultism – who can falsify – by their very existence and known teachings – anyone or any teaching or action in occultism? That’s not an auspicious start.

    I suggest in your book (which I expect will follow from these years of biographies), you find some way to devote more space to the most positive examples while consigning the obvious criminals, dimwits, and mentally-ill to only three chapters, where it should be clear enough they are in fit company. At least, I hope you consider that in the interest of moving humanity “toward a more ecological spirituality”.

    On the general topic of immortality, I see the topic tied together with “manifest destiny” and the whole enthusiasm for colonizing outer space. But if you can’t make, and especially if you didn’t care to try to make, something really outstanding in one lifetime, what is a second going to prove? For humanity as a whole: if we can’t do better than we have, given all we’ve been given, wouldn’t it just be like propagating a disease to colonize the galaxy?

  131. @ teresa #131, Thank you for the title of the Paul Gallico novel, “The Foolish Immortals”. It’s a little different from what I remember: a novel not a short story, and more concerned with the religious implications than the plot.

  132. JMG,

    I first came across this admittedly obscure term in a discussion of Assyrian and Babylonian religion, and the fatalistic outlook it engendered. I think it may have been H.W.F. Saggs, who noted that an ancient Egyptian’s worldview would have been bolstered by a visit to his culture’s still-magnificent ruins today, as would that of a Babylonian by a visit to his culture’s melted and vanished ones. Hostile or contemptuous gods make for strange times.

  133. @gnat:

    My ancestors–I know 13 generations of them before me on one side, though only 7 on the other–include successful professional criminals (“successful” as in “they prospered and were never caught”), a few violent and lawless men, and several outright traitors to variious nations, in addition to several pillars of society and a few generations of occultists. All the skills that I learned from them and from stories about them, as I was growing up, seemed to me to complement one another quite neatly. Hermes, though a single Deity, is patron of both wise people and criminals.

    I value the history that John Michael is tracing here precisely because it does not emphasize virtue over vice, but holds the two in proper balance. If occultism were a single, unitary thing, and if it had an unbalanced paragon of virtue, like the Christ or the Buddha, as its overarching guiding light, I would not esteem it anywhere near as highly as I do.

    One of the greatest mistakes humanity has ever made, in my opinion, is the very odd notion that human history moves–however slowly–along an upward path toward perfect justice and complete virtue. I don’t see any good evidence that it really is doing that.

  134. Hi, all. There is a series produced in France available on Netflix called Ad Vitam which explores (via a detective story) issues in a society that has discovered a way to cure physical aging. It’s not dystopian per se, but it shows both how a self-centered society disdains, neglects, and finally outlaws children, as well as imagining a rather disgusting form of entertainment that flourishes in the shadowy underside of this civilization.

    Oddly, I just watched it recently. (Before reading this post.) I wonder how many people who think they want physical or mental immortality realize how boring it will end up being?

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