Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 27 Jul 04 16:38
Jay Kinney, formerly a regular on the WELL, has returned to discuss his new anthology, _The Inner West: An Introduction to the Hidden Wisdom of the West_ (Tarcher/Penguin). Jay has had a multi-faceted career as cartoonist, illustrator, writer, editor, and publisher. He founded Anarchy Comics and was publisher and editor in chief of Gnosis Magazine (http://www.lumen.org/) for 14 years. He co-authored _Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions_ (Penguin/Arkana, 1999), in addition to this new anthology. Jay lives in San Francisco with his wife Dixie and two crazed cats. His web site (http://www.jaykinney.com/), also known as Jay Kinney's Clinick of Cultural Collision, where he writes "Astute patients will note the juxtaposition in the Clinic environment of links and value systems that would seem to be mutually exclusive. According to the Doctor's philosophy of cultural collision, mental health in the diabolical here and now requires the ability to witness and digest jarring contradictions while maintaining personal equilibrium. The Web (much like the "real" world) provides entree to a host of shockingly dissimilar ideas, sights, and sounds. The observation of such a mix of opinions and behaviors with a properly detached state of mind can lead to the expansion of tolerance or, at least, an awareness of the diversity of human endeavor. Those who cannot develop this are apparently left with little recourse but to try and burn their shoes, or incarcerate those whose names look funny and were born in the wrong countries." The real purpose of this discussion is to test that whole mental health thing. Bobby Lilly is leading the discussion. Bobby was a member of the San Francisco based Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce (FACT) in the early 80's and in July of 1986 became a founding member of San Franciscans Against Censorship Together (SF-ACT), a Bay Area grassroots organization created in response to the censorious Meese Commission Report on Pornography. As chairperson over the ten years of it's existence, she helped transform SF-ACT into a statewide organization known as Californians Against Censorship Together (CAL-ACT), which worked with several promoinent national organizations. A long-term feminist and activist with her background in the labor movement, new left politics and the women's movement, she was committed to political, social and economic equality of the sexes but questioned orthodox feminist tenets regarding objectification and sexual expression. She writes: "At least, that is who I was, before my life was shattered by circumstances and events that threw me far outside of what I'd thought of for almost twenty years as "my life." Beginning in 97, illness and a pervasive mental confusion that lasted for years due to severe hypothyroidism and eventually, significant personal losses left me lost, alone in a mental fog while life moved on outside the limbo in which I existed. But, in that solitary "prison" the universe began to speak to me and I knew I was not alone. It gave me something to hold on to when I had nothing else and, during that time apart, I learned to see my connection to "all" material reality in a way I still have not found words to adequately describe." Bobby also has a passion for digital photography (images at http://www.sonic.net/~bobbyl/index.html).
Bobby Lilly (bobbyl) Tue 27 Jul 04 18:00
Jay, Thank you for the opportunity to read your latest book "The Inner West". I found it eye-opening to say the least. I've read some of the names of the people and organizations covered in it but never had any idea of what they were really all about. That information alone is priceless. It alters my understanding of our common Western history in ways I'm still trying to take in fully. Thank you so much for it. My first question to you is relatively prgmatic since I want to know how you would describe the difference between this book and "Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions" which you co-authored sometime back with Richard Smoley?
Bobby Lilly (bobbyl) Tue 27 Jul 04 18:29
Jay, I also have a great curiosity about your personal beliefs and how they fit into your search for knowledge in such esoteric arenas. I found it fascinating to learn from about your history with comic books and Gnosis magazine and had to wonder what the connections or disjunctures were for you to make such leaps in your career/life path? To me, it seems this book and "Hidden Wisdom" were logical extension of the path you've been following but the world of "Young Lust" seems somehow far away from where you appear to be today?
Bobby Lilly (bobbyl) Tue 27 Jul 04 19:04
And, last but not least, getting personal about it all ;-), I have to admit I'm really curious about why you decided to choose me to lead this discussion? Granted, you found a post of mine in another discussion to be interesting.....but to allow me this pivotal role when I was a stranger to you makes me very curious about that choice.
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Tue 27 Jul 04 22:47
Bobby, you've got some good questions there, which I appreciate, so let me take them in order. You asked: "I want to know how you would describe the difference between this book and "Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions" which you co-authored sometime back with Richard Smoley?" I think of the two books as complimentary. "Hidden Wisdom" was Richard's and my overview of the different facets of the wisdom traditions in the West. It was our attempt to summarize them in direct, accessible language that any literate reader could understand. "The Inner West" brings together articles on the same subject areas by 18 authors who are among the best writers in the field. Nearly all of the articles originally appeared in GNOSIS, the journal I published, and they delve more deeply into their specific subjects than Richard and I were able to do in "Hidden Wisdom." Nevertheless, both books work on their own, and if you enjoy one of them, you'll likely enjoy the other. I'll tackle your next question in my next posting.
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Tue 27 Jul 04 23:38
Bobby, you asked: "I found it fascinating to learn [...] about your history with comic books and Gnosis magazine and had to wonder what the connections or disjunctures were for you to make such leaps in your career/life path?" I suppose that to most people there would seem to be a great gap between my early work in underground comix and my later work focusing on esoteric, occult, and mystical traditions. But to me they aren't mutually exclusive. One of my main interests for the last 35 years has been the creation or discovery of alternatives to mainstream culture. This interest of mine may have been strengthened by my growing up in Ohio and Illinois in relatively conservative communities. Since I felt that I didn't quite fit in there, I was always looking for new possibilities or viable alternatives. Underground comix were one expression of that and the cartoonist scene in San Francisco at the beginning of the '70s was what pulled me out here to California. The work I was doing in that field caught the eye of Stewart Brand, who invited me to do work for CoEvolution Quarterly and the Whole Earth Catalogs, and that connection evolved to the point where I eventually became an editor of CQ. Again, the emphasis was on fostering alternatives. By the mid-80s I was feeling the urge to start a magazine about Western esoteric spiritual traditions. This was a subject that I had always been interested in. (I edited a one-shot comic, Occult Laff-Parade, in 1973, for example.) The Whole Earth crew were very supportive of this and allowed me to continue with paying work for CQ (and its successor, Whole Earth Review) while I put out the first few issues of GNOSIS. I view the Western esoteric spiritual traditions as important alternative ways of relating to life as a whole. They don't involve having to sign up to a set of religious beliefs on someone else's say-so. If you are willing to dig beneath the surface, they include ways of _experiencing_ reality in new and more profound ways. Both GNOSIS and my two books have been dedicated to sharing information about those ways with interested readers.
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Tue 27 Jul 04 23:58
Bobby, you further observed: "To me, it seems this book ["The Inner West"] and "Hidden Wisdom" were logical extension of the path you've been following but the world of 'Young Lust' seems somehow far away from where you appear to be today?" I can hardly argue with that. Bill Griffith (of 'Zippy' fame) and I started "Young Lust" comics as a parody of romance comics when I was only 19 and still in art school (1970). I was living in a co-ed dormitory and camping out in my girlfriend's room while drawing my main story in the first issue of YL. Suddenly, here we are 34 years later, and "Young Lust" does seem "somehow far away" as you put it. But I think that that distance is mainly one of time. I don't believe that an interest in spirituality rules out having a sense of humor or an appreciation of bawdiness. One of my big gripes with mainstream or conventional religion is that it too often succumbs to a puritanical moralism that can be life-deadening instead of enlivening.
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Wed 28 Jul 04 00:07
Finally, Bobby, you noted: "I have to admit I'm really curious about why you decided to choose me to lead this discussion? Granted, you found a post of mine in another discussion to be interesting.....but to allow me this pivotal role when I was a stranger to you makes me very curious about that choice." Oh, just chalk it up to my masculine intuition. <g> I often go on gut-feelings about people and your postings in the inkwell.vue interview with John Shirley led me to believe that you might enjoy "The Inner West" and be a good person to dialog with. It's that simple, really...
Bobby Lilly (bobbyl) Wed 28 Jul 04 08:24
You wrote, "I suppose that to most people there would seem to be a great gap between my early work in underground comix and my later work focusing on esoteric, occult, and mystical traditions. But to me they aren't mutually exclusive." But, their relationship to the creative process itself is very different, at least in my mind. With your comix, you were an artist directly involved in the act of creation and with the magazine you step back from that process to become an editor who is working with the creation efforts of others. As someone who is trying to bring out the "artist" in myself these days, I have a great curiosity about the WHY you seem to have moved away from that "hands on" connection with the creative process - or is that drive to create still there - just not as exposed to the world as before?
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Wed 28 Jul 04 11:09
Well, let's look at it this way. What does an artist do? He or she imagines something and then tries to express that on paper or canvas or whatever. (That, of course, is a gross generalization; some artists start with no preconceived idea or image and proceed to see what unfolds in the moment of creation.) In editing a magazine or a book, I had a certain vision of what I wanted and found writers and designers who could work together to materialize that vision. I moved away from doing comix for a whole complex of reasons, which mainly boiled down to: it was no longer enjoyable to me. In fact, for a couple of decades I didn't even draw very much. Unlike some cartoonists who *must* draw or for whom drawing comes easy, I always found drawing to be hard work. And given that the markets that were available were paying poorly, I turned my attention to writing and editing. In the comix field I had written and edited as much as I had drawn...so this was just shifting the dynamic slightly. And, I should mention, I've been getting back into drawing more recently. I did a two-page strip this Spring that will appear in a cartoon history of the Wobblies (IWW) and am currently doing a series of 18 alchemical emblems in color.
Bobby Lilly (bobbyl) Wed 28 Jul 04 15:25
You wrote, "I view the Western esoteric spiritual traditions as important alternative ways of relating to life as a whole. They don't involve having to sign up to a set of religious beliefs on someone else's say-so. If you are willing to dig beneath the surface, they include ways of _experiencing_ reality in new and more profound ways." Can you expound on that statement a bit, both in the abstract and from personal experience? Both your book and posts here so far, have not touched on your "personal" set of beliefs. Yet, given your deep interest in such arenas, they must be there, right? How do "YOU" "KNOW" that there are new and more profound ways to experience reality? And, can you talk about your own spiritual quest?
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Wed 28 Jul 04 22:30
I suppose that if I were totally "on message" about my book, I'd note that I discuss some of my personal experiences in the introduction to _The Inner West_ and then urge everyone to buy the book. <g> And truth be told, I was reluctant to even discuss them in the introduction, because spiritual teachers of mine have generally discouraged blabbing about one's inner experiences. As long as you keep those experiences to yourself, you can still hold them in a space of "maybe, maybe not" or "was that really what I think it was?" And maintaining the tension of this doubt helps to keep the experiences "alive" as points of inquiry. The problem with discussing inner experiences with others or in print is that rendering them into words tends to freeze them in one interpretation and it makes them become anecdotes rather than living inner moments. So, I'm going to wiggle out of getting too specific, if I may. Suffice it to say that various experiences, ranging from early psychoactive episodes to lucid "dreams" to meditative states have led me to conclude that there is a higher intelligence underlying the universe as a whole; that our individual consciousness is, in some fashion, a localized fragment of a vaster consciousness; and that there are traditions and methodologies - both in the East and the West - that facilitate one's capacity to realize this. This is, in many ways, the stuff of religion, but I think that most religions don't do it justice. In many cases those individuals who discovered this capacity of "knowing" greater realities were persecuted by the reigning religions as heretics or worse. Especially in the West this led to the wisdom traditions leading an underground existence, where they were stigmatized as "occult" or 'hogwash." One of the main intentions of GNOSIS, when I was publishing it, and of the books I've been involved with since then, has been to help rescue these traditions from obscurity and make them more available to people in a time when religions as such are increasingly in the sway of fundamentalism.
Bobby Lilly (bobbyl) Thu 29 Jul 04 12:18
Each of the traditions in your book seemed to have their own set of rules and laws and practices and some were mutually exclusive. But there were parts of each that resonated with me and matched my own inner experiences. My experiences with such realms came from attempting to cope with illness and the resulting mental and physical stresses to my system. I suspect that the "KNOWING" that I arrived at may be similar to some of the conclusions you've reached from your own experiences and I can empathize with you not wanting to get specific about them. From childhood on I've thought of myself as a "doubting Thomas" and call myself an agnostic. It was very strange to find inside myself what I did. The basic conclusion I drew that we/the universe are all connected is not easily described or talked about. Words just get in my way and no matter how I try to talk about it, I seem able to only touch on some tangential aspects of the actual experiences. In 97 or 98 there were reports of experiments that found a "God spot" in the brain that when excited produced religious experiences and the explanations and discussion about what it meant were fascinating. I've often wondered if that is what I had tapped into. I know I could give very different explanations for my own experiences but have chosen NOT to try to explain just accept the sense of connection that I've been left with and focus on HOW I live my life in this world/at this time. I liked reading in the introductory statement what you said about the web: "The observation of such a mix of opinions and behaviors with a properly detached state of mind can lead to the expansion of tolerance or, at least, an awareness of the diversity of human endeavor. and also added in that "The real purpose of this discussion is to test that whole mental health thing." And, maybe that's what your book is all about too.
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Thu 29 Jul 04 15:25
I tend to think of "agnostic" and "gnostic" as two sides of the same coin. I, too, used to call myself an agnostic, by which I meant that I could honestly say I didn't know if there was a God or not, but I was open to the possibility. (This is different from some definitions of "agnostic" which seem to say that one _can't_ know.) A "gnostic" on the other hand would say that one _can_ know (or experience) the Ultimate Reality or God. Between my own reading and my own experiences (such as they are) I'd align myself with a "gnostic" outlook at this point. The interesting thing is that for both atheists and conventional believers, these distinctions are largely gibberish. The atheist would contend that there *is* no God to know (or not know) in the first place. And the believer would likely say that belief (and a very specific and "correct" belief, at that) needs to precede any possible experience of the holy spirit or the divine or whatever. As for the "God spot" question, our understanding of the relationship between our consciousness and our physical bodies is still at a rudimentary level. Physical conditions can affect our consciousness and vice versa. Fasting, for instance, can have a powerful effect. The line "The real purpose of this discussion is to test that whole mental health thing" was actually Jon L's. <g> But I won't dispute it. The often unspoken question in the background of any discussion of inner experiences (many of which are quite ambiguous or hard to interpret) is "Am I nuts or what?" I believe that one has to be able to live with a high degree of ongoing uncertainty when working on one's inner life. And that fact may be why so many people prefer to opt for clear-cut beliefs that they can cling to as anchors or foundations.
Bobby Lilly (bobbyl) Fri 30 Jul 04 12:12
Until a few years ago, calling myself agnostic was my way of saying that I did NOT "know" if there was a God (a creator and intervenor who listens to our prayers) or not. These days my questioning is different and my concept of the possibilities of what a "GOD" might be is very different from that kindly father who watches over me and shepherds me through this "vale of tears". For, even though I know that we are all part of the conscious universe, I know my understanding is limited by my need to see things simply and my need to always choose one option or another as I pass thru time and space. I could say I am God and that you are God or we are all part of "God" BUT that god does not watch over and protect "me" and I still have no understanding as to whether or not there is some "ultimate reality" that lies beyond that understanding. There is a vague sense that the "universe has been created more than once (or has created itself) and perhaps this is what the "big bang" is really all about but there is no sense of the why or actual how of it all. In my mind, we are all connected but the question remains as to whether there is a "GOD" beyond that which I think of as the conscious universe which created all that is and directs the play in which we all act out our parts or if there is no play, no director, merely a dreamer passing thru a solitary eternity and that the ultimate reality is merely the sum of all choices, all events all dimensions and dreams that the conscious universe is aware of it all though we are only able to see thru the limited foci of time and space and material reality. There are times I wonder about the certainty of my "knowing" and wonder if I've just managed to convince myself because I "want" there to be something out there beyond the here and now and the thoughts in my own brain which is all I can experience. Ultimately, I have to rely on myself and am the one to determine what path I take. And the one foundation that has carried me through from childhood to now is the Golden Rule. I try to treat others as I wish to be treated and take the time to try to understand their reasons for what they do and why they are how they are. All I can affect is the here and now and it is in the way I treat those other sparks of the universal consciousness that counts from day to day and and shapes all of our tomorrows. All the different belief systems in your book touch on various explanations and offer ways to "know" but none ring totally true (primarily because they are so "detailed") though all seem to see different facets from my perspective. But, the historical development of each of them and their impact on Western culture whether we are aware of that history or not, is what has made us who we are. Reading your book helps me understand how we moved from age to age and I can both honor and weep for those who were martyred for their beliefs through the ages since they all seemed to share parts of the "truth" I know. I haven't read the book, but from what the press tells me the popular "Da Vinci Code" touches on part of that history. Different critics, however, seem to vary widely as to how well it really presents a "hidden" history and how much is mere fiction. How well to you think your book does that job (or your earlier overview) and how does that novel stack up to your understanding of that history?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 30 Jul 04 12:41
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Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Fri 30 Jul 04 13:22
Bobby noted about _The Da Vinci Code_: "Different critics, however, seem to vary widely as to how well it really presents a 'hidden' history and how much is mere fiction. How well to you think your book does that job (or your earlier overview) and how does that novel stack up to your understanding of that history?" I consider _The Da Vinci Code_ to be a rippin' yarn that maintains a fast pace and does a pretty good job of mixing various esoteric traditions and teachings into a big fictional stew. Most of its components are plucked from three or four highly speculative "non-fiction" books: _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_; _The Templar Revelation_; and Margaret Starbird's books. _The Da Vinci Code_ concocts a "hidden history" that is sort of charming, but which intersects with reality only occasionally. In a certain sense, _The Inner West_ is an antidote or corrective to _The Da Vinci Code_ because my book presents what amounts to the *real* hidden history. Things like Hermeticism, alchemy, Gnosticism, and so on have had a much larger impact on history than most people realize and in many cases there is still valuable and helpful material within their teachings that can inspire people today. _The Inner West_'s purpose is to share that history and provide an overview, so that if the reader is intrigued by any of these subjects, he or she will get a good head start in pursuing it further.
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 30 Jul 04 15:24
Hi, Jay! I'd love to hear some short definitions of these main threads you have traced. What is their relation to the above-ground traditions of institutional western Christianity and other dominant theologies? Also, there's a resurgence in Kabbalah these days. How does that Jewish tradition tie in with these others?
Bobby Lilly (bobbyl) Fri 30 Jul 04 16:40
Jay, Perhaps in answering Gail's questions, you could give us some sense of the historical scope of your book? I'd love to see a sketchy time-line of the various groups and personalities in it. The articles, although presenting a good overview of each, did not leave me feeling chronologically grounded in the overall subject and I wanted a better overall sense of this inner history. Is that something "Hidden Wisdom", your earlier book with Richard Smoley does? And, in line with Gail's question on Kabbalah, I have to admit that I initially found the split you made between Eastern and Western religions surprising. I do not normally think of Islam or the Jewish faith as particularly "Western" so was surprised when I first leafed through the book to find articles touching on both Jewish mysticism and Sufism as well as Christianity. Needless to say, I would enjoy having you address the reasoning behind both the title and the scope of the book.
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Fri 30 Jul 04 20:16
Okay. To answer Bobby's last question first, Western and Eastern are relative terms and not always easily defined. In the book I use "Western" or "the West" to refer to Western culture and civilization, that is the web of history, influences, values, and understandings that distinguish both Europe and the Americas in contrast to "the East." In making this distinction I wasn't saying one was better than the other or that never the twain shall meet. On the contrary, the East and West are penetrating each other ongoingly and the similarities may soon be greater than the differences. But, for instance, in terms of religion, I view the West as an arena in which the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - all descended in some sense from Abraham as the seminal monotheistic believer) have had the greatest influence and impact. Those three faiths share a certain set of assumptions and are basically (in my opinion at least) acknowledging the same God. The mystics of those three faiths also often have more in common than not. (But this can be true of mystics of any faith, East or West. Shortly before his death, the modern-era Christian mystic, Thomas Merton, was especially taken with the kinship between Christian monks and Buddhist monks. And, interestingly enough, Merton was also quite intrigued with the mystics of Islam, the Sufis.) Perhaps we might look at this East-West issue this way: Each world religion as it developed from its inception interacted with its surrounding culture. Each religion evolved its particular vocabulary and entered into a reciprocal relationship with its host culture, establishing morals, socially-binding practices, and so on. At the same time, the religions tended to develop blind spots and imbalances that stood in the way of their truly serving everyone or being useful to everyone. The traditions that we examine in _The Inner West_ in many cases developed as a counterbalance to the reigning exoteric mainstream religions. They were either mystical traditions that were largely hidden within the depths of the religions *or* counter-traditions (such as Gnosticism) that performed a kind of critique of, and deconditioning from, the exoteric religions. And it is precisely because these inner traditions developed in the same Western cultural matrix that we live in that they *sometimes* have a better chance of engaging our interest and speaking to us than traditions from elsewhere. I'll say more later, but the wife is yelling from the living roon, "hey, where'd you go? There's a ball game on!" so I'm taking a break for a bit. ;-)
Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 30 Jul 04 20:46
In a recent book about science and mythmaking, I ran across the Eastern Orthodox mystic tradition preserved in the Philokalia (http://www.digiserve.com/mystic/Christian/Philokalia/), which was explicated as a narrative of the universe of equal validity to, and with interesting contrasts to, the scientific narrative. Is that tradition treated in your book?
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Fri 30 Jul 04 22:06
Andrew, the Eastern Orthodox mystical tradition is touched on briefly in the article on Christian mysticism in _The Inner West_. Another excellent and quite readable book which discusses it more is Richard Smoley's _Inner Christianity_ from Shambhala Books. And Robin Amis's _A Different Christianity_ from SUNY Press goes into further discussion as well.
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Fri 30 Jul 04 22:32
To return to an earlier thread, Bobby had wondered about a time-line of the subjects and people covered in _The Inner West_. Over the years, as I've researched these traditions, I've formed a mental time-line that works in my mind as if it were a long strip of butcher paper running down the walls of a lengthy hallway. And I also have an animated sequence (again in my mind) of streams of ideas flowing out from the Mediterranean basin, across Europe, and so on. Basically, I'd locate the key ideas of Western inner traditions as deriving from Ancient Egypt and Greece (the mystery schools, Pythagoreanism, Platonism); these in turn influencing the Neoplatonism of the early Christian Era and the Gnosticism of that era. However, both Neoplatonism and Gnosticism died out within a few centuries. Then, in a different but related set of currents, I see the mystical traditions within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam flowing down through the centuries from the inception of those religions up to the present. Meanwhile, I think of the resurfacing of Gnostic ideas in the Cathars and Bogomils of medieval Europe, who weren't allowed to survive. And then in the Renaissance you had the revival of Hermetic and Neoplatonic concepts, the introduction of Jewish Kabbalah into Christendom, and much interest in Alchemy and Theurgy (Magic). A case can also be made for some cross-fertilization between Christian, Jewish and Islamic mysticism in Spain during the period of Moorish rule. In the late Renaissance you have the creation of the Rosicrucian myth and ideal which was followed by the Masonic myth and ideal at the start of the Enlightenment. And this is followed by the Occult Revival in England and France in the 19th century, which starred such personalities as Madame Blavatsky. And meanwhile, in parallel to all this, you had certain pagan and folk traditions that eluded the Inquistion and handed down their own bits of wisdom. So, we are basically looking at a span of over two millenia, with a number of different streams sometimes being halted, sometimes re-emerging, wending their way to the present. I hope that helps and doesn't muddy the waters further!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 31 Jul 04 08:41
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Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Sun 1 Aug 04 11:32
Gail wrote: "I'd love to hear some short definitions of these main threads you have traced. What is their relation to the above-ground traditions of institutional western Christianity and other dominant theologies?" Many of these threads (such as Hermeticism, Alchemy, Magic, and Gnosticism) are often looked at as old, antiquated, and superseded ways of thinking about the world. For instance, Hermeticism works with a cosmology where there are four main elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and a dynamic relationship between humans on earth (seen as a microcosm) and a higher realm of stars, planets, and gods (see as the macrocosm). Now, on the face of it, this would appear to have almost nothing to do with our present understanding of the world. The four elements are unrecognized by science and any notion of a micro/macrocosmic distinction just doesn't click with the present understanding of things. *However*, I would argue that this is a matter of apples and oranges. Hermeticism begins to be much more interesting and relevant if we think of it as a set of metaphors with which to approach our own unconscious psyche and to map out our subjective relationship to the greater whole of life. Carl Jung, the great psychologist, drew much of his inspiration from Hermetic, Alchemical, and Gnostic sources, and developed an approach to psychology that incorporated many of their metaphors. I view Jung as a crucial figure in recovering the heritage of the Inner West and reintroducing it into intellectual and spiritual circles. Another example: Alchemy, which builds upon the Hermetic worldview, is commonly now thought of as a early failed version of chemistry which concentrated on the hopeless task of turning lead into gold. Yes, there was some of that in its day, but it also served as a meditative approach where what was being transmuted was one's own consciousness. As for what these traditions' relation was to the "above-ground traditions of institutional western Christianity," I'd say that it was usually at loggerheads, although the conflicts were often minimized by the Inner West practitioners keeping a low profile. The Church was a powerful political and cultural institution up until the 19th century when its power began to decline, and one didn't want to go too far in challenging its theology and worldview. Wariness of the Church is one of the main reasons that, for instance, the alchemists developed elaborate metaphors and codes to express themselves. Teasing out the meaning of their writings and visual emblems is one of the intriguing challenges of reinvestigating alchemy.
Jay Kinney (jay-kinney) Sun 1 Aug 04 11:43
Gail also wondered: "...there's a resurgence in Kabbalah these days. How does that Jewish tradition tie in with these others?" A couple ways. First, the resurgence in Kabbalah is part and parcel of people rediscovering deep teachings within their own heritages that they'd not previously appreciated. (Although in the case of Madonna and her reputed interest in Kabbalah, it wasn't precisely her own heritage because I believe she was raised Catholic not Jewish.) Most of us who came of age in the 60s or later spent many years feeling alienated from our own roots. One of the messages of _The Inner West_ is that those roots are broader, deeper, and far more fascinating than many of us every realized. So, it is an invitation to cut loose from some of that alienation and reconnect. Second, although Kabbalah was traditionally a Jewish mystical teaching that was largely enclosed within the Jewish community, it did begin to leak out into the broader Christian world during the Renaissance. At that time, the Hermetic and Neoplatonic teachings were also being revived and these all began to overlap and influence each other. The Renaissance was, in many ways, the flowering of the Inner West. This is discussed in the book, for those who wish to know more about it.
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