inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #0 of 63: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 11 Jun 13 10:40
    
Inkwell.vue is honored to welcome Richard Smoley, author of _Supernatural: 
Writings on an Unknown History_, for our latest author discussion. 

Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1956, Richard Smoley has had a lively 
interest in spiritual matters at least from the age of ten, when a 
great-aunt of his, a nun, took him aside and told him he was maybe 
thinking a little too much about religion. As an undergraduate, Smoley 
went to Harvard College, where he worked on the universitys venerable 
literary magazine, The Harvard Advocate, and edited an anthology entitled 
First Flowering: The Best of the Harvard Advocate: 1866-1976 (published by 
Addison-Wesley in 1977), which contained writings ranging from the early 
poetry of T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, and Wallace Stevens to the lyrics of 
Lou Reeds Sweet Jane.

After taking a bachelors degree magna cum laude in classics at Harvard in 
1978, Smoley went on to the University of Oxford in the U.K., where he 
edited The Pelican, the magazine of Corpus Christi College. He took a 
second B.A. in the Honour School of Literae Humaniores (classics and 
philosophy) in 1980, and received his M.A. from Oxford in 1985.
 
Probably the most important part of his stay at Oxford came from his 
contact with a small group that was studying the Kabbalah, one of the 
mainstays of the Western esoteric tradition. It was here that he was first 
introduced to many of the ideas he has discussed in his books and 
articles. After spending two years at Oxford, Smoley moved to San 
Francisco in 1980. During this time he also continued his spiritual 
investigations, working with teachings ranging from Tibetan Buddhism to A 
Course in Miracles.

In 1986, Smoley started writing for a new magazine called Gnosis: A 
Journal of the Western Inner Traditions. After four years of writing for 
Gnosis and a brief stint as managing editor, he came on board as editor in 
November 1990. In his eight years as editor of Gnosis, he put together 
issues of the magazine on subjects as diverse as dreams, prayer and 
meditation, and love. In 1998 Gnosis won Utne Readers award for best 
spiritual coverage. In May 1999, Smoleys book, Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to 
the Western Inner Traditions, coauthored with Jay Kinney, was published by 
Penguin Arkana, and was the subject of a discussion here at 
<inkwell.vue.58>.

Leading the conversation is Linda Castellani, a member of the WELL for 
over twenty years, former cohost of the Mirrorshades (with Bruce Sterling 
and Jon Lebkowsky), Crafts, and Inkwell forums, and current host of the 
Miscellaneous forum, as well as an independent forum on the paranormal. 
She's a technical writer and consultant living in the Bay Area. 
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #1 of 63: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 11 Jun 13 11:42
    
Thank you, Jon, and welcome Richard.

My first question is about terminology.  The title you chose for your
book is "Supernatural." Do you think the terms "supernatural" and
"paranormal" can be used interchangeably, or do you see a clear
division between what each term represents?

Recently, in an online discussion about a book, the person who posted
about the book described it as being about the "paranormal," which
piqued my interest right away.

However, when I got the book, it was all about vampires and zombies
and werewolves, none of which interest me, nor do they fall into the
category of paranormal, in my opinion.

So, what do you think?  What are we talking about here, and what are
we not talking about?
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #2 of 63: Richard Smoley (richardsmoley) Wed 12 Jun 13 14:32
    
I could launch into a discussion of these semantic nuances, but I have
to say that in fact the book title was suggested by my editor at
Tarcher--this happens fairly often in the book world, and I certainly
didn't have any better alternatives.

I don't as a matter of fact see any sharp or meaningful distinction
between the two words. But to be concrete about what my book is about,
it covers a range of topics, including some that are highly popular
(The Da Vinci Code, Nostradamus, 2012, demons), others that are a
little bit more esoteric (hidden masters, toxic prayer--can prayer be
toxic?), as well as such things as A Course in Miracles and mind
healing. I hope this helps!
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #3 of 63: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 12 Jun 13 15:08
    
And, let's not forget Kaballah, Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Edgar Cayce, I
Ching, consciousness, meditation, and magical traditions all within the
first few pages of the first chapter!

In the preface, you say that, "Underlying all these essays is woven a
theme that, I believe, is the most important and sublime in all
religious literature [...] But I don't believe that anyone can
experience this awakening without being transformed by it forever.  It
is to point toward this awakening that this book is ultimately aimed."

For those of our readers who don't have the book, could you say what
that theme is?  

And, when writing essays about unknown histories, awakenings and
transformations, is it possible to do so without also discussing
religion?
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #4 of 63: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Thu 13 Jun 13 21:37
    

I'm wondering how this book fits in the pantheon of your other works.
When getting ready for this topic, I wanted to put this book in the
context of what you had written before. So I used my favorite method
of divination, Google, found http://www.innerchristianity.com/ and
its mention of your other works but not this one. Hence my question.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #5 of 63: Richard Smoley (richardsmoley) Fri 14 Jun 13 14:02
    
Linda, I would answer your question in this way. Inside you there is
something that sees, that says "I." It is not your body. It is not your
thoughts and feelings, because, as is easy to discover from even a
reasonably simple meditation exercise, it is possible to witness all
these things as from a distance. So who or what is doing the observing?
It can never be seen, because it is always that which sees. It is this
"I" toward which I believe all true mystical teaching points (although
this is not the final point by any means).

I once made this point in a nursing home to an audience that consisted
of people suffering from multiple sclerosis, a number of them barely
able to move. At one point I said to them what I said above--there is
something in you that says "I"--and I could see them nodding in
agreement.

As for religion, of course it's intimately tied with these topics, but
since it is an enormous subject in its own right, I haven't focused on
it in Supernatural. In my book Inner Christianity, for example, I try
to outline the basic teachings of the esoteric Christian tradition as I
understand it.

Regarding the relation of this book to my other works, this one is to
some degree more incidental--rather than discoursing on a single topic,
it treats a lot of different topics, many of them of popular interest.
In this way it might be more accessible than some of my other works,
though I've tried to write them all as clearly as possible.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #6 of 63: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 14 Jun 13 14:27
    

Richard,

Back in the dark ages, 1993, you participated in a Gnosis conference on
the Well, now archived as <gnosis.old.>.

Back then, you asked a question to the participants about the value of
and perhaps the down side of diversity in the spiritual and religious
realms. From your experience since then and especially your latest book,
how do you now feel about all the choices we have today and our ability
to pick and choose between them? Or perhaps to find a syncretic blending
of them?
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #7 of 63: Richard Smoley (richardsmoley) Sat 15 Jun 13 11:54
    
My views have changed since then (if I remember correctly, which I may
not). If I recall, I was perhaps somewhat suspicious of what has since
come to be called supermarket spirituality--the idea that you can pick
and choose your religious beliefs to suit yourself.

I now believe that supermarket spirituality, in this sense, is not
only legitimate but necessary. For too long people have bought bills of
goods, in spiritual teachings both conventional and alternative. One
idea sounds good, so you are automatically obliged to take the rest,
even if these other beliefs are suspect and implausible.

So now I would say that in this individualistic age, we have the duty
to ourselves to pick and choose--carefully and thoughtfully--our
beliefs and practices. It may not be so in all ages, but it is in ours.

Of course there is the retort that this becomes a license for
anything. In terms of belief and practice, perhaps, but not in the way
of ethics. As a matter just about everyone, believer and nonbeliever
alike, is in agreement about the basic ethical tenets that people
should live by. They may try to squirrel out of them, and, it is true,
that sort of picking and choosing is dangerous. But by and large we
know what the rules are. We just don't want to live by them.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #8 of 63: Peter Meuleners (pjm) Sat 15 Jun 13 12:42
    
Good post.  Thanks.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #9 of 63: Paulina Borsook (loris) Sat 15 Jun 13 20:59
    
just wondering what you thought of the work of erik davis
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #10 of 63: Kevin Wheeler (krome) Sun 16 Jun 13 13:29
    
"Whether or not the Kali Yuga is about to end, we can bring the end of
the reign of quantity a few steps closer by looking into ourselves and
making sure that the values by which we guide our lives are more than
merely economic ones."

Yup.  I am enjoying the read and don't really have any questions, but
I believe you and I could agree that religion is both the cure and the
cause of many of our problems.  Even the quantitists believe just a
little bit in whatever and that is just enough to fuel the kinds of
mass hysteria we have seen in the markets and such.  I mean, I was in
San Francisco new year's eve 2000 when even non-believers halfway
expected all the computers to go down.
   "Quantity" is the last harbor of the faithless.  They simply can't
see anything else.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #11 of 63: Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 16 Jun 13 15:20
    
Kevin's comment slipped in as I was writing this.  My comment refers
to <loris>'s question about Erik Davis...And, speaking of which, in the
chapter called Demons Among Us, you talk about the phone call you
received from the woman in Australia when you were editor of Gnosis,
that led you to give her a number "of a crisis line for spiritual
emergencies..."  Such a thing actually exists?
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #12 of 63: Richard Smoley (richardsmoley) Sun 16 Jun 13 18:11
    
Regarding Erik Davis, he is a good friend. I got to know him when he
wrote for Gnosis in the '90s. I respect his work very much. He is
definitely much more plugged into the techno/Burning Man world than I
am, which would admittedly not be difficult.

The Spiritual Emergency Network was, as I remember, the handiwork in
part of Frances Vaughan, and it really did exist. It was based in Santa
Cruz in those days (c.1995), but I don't think it exists anymore.

Tantum religio potuit suadere malroum--"so much evil has religion
encouraged"--as Lucretius famously put it. I often find myself
wondering, for example, if taken in sum, the Catholic Church has done
more good than harm or vice versa. I tend to believe that it has done
more good, although I can easily see where someone could make the
opposite argument. The hierarchy of course has long been a moral
embarrassment, but on the other hand there are a lot of nuns and
priests in the trenches doing vital work for people who would otherwise
be neglected.

Y2K. As a result of some strange circumstances (dinner with a friend
and a lesbian friend of his and her girlfriend, the latter two of whom
wanted to ring in the New Year without the rest of us), I found myself
on the F train to Brooklyn at 12:00 midnight on January 1, 2000. I told
myself, "I guess I must not be too worried about Y2K." Since it was
early (for New Year's Eve), the subway was pretty empty and the few
people who were on it were very friendly.

FWIW, to use WELL speak.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #13 of 63: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Mon 17 Jun 13 11:43
    

> <richardsmoley>
> The hierarchy of course has long been a moral
> embarrassment, but on the other hand there are a lot of nuns and
> priests in the trenches doing vital work for people who would otherwise
> be neglected.

I'm not a Catholic or even a Christian, but I've been inspired by the life
of St. Francis. What you write about here was wonderfully illustrated
by a symbolic scene in Zefireeli's "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" where
St. Francis meets the Pope: http://vimeo.com/47132524

<krome>
> "Whether or not the Kali Yuga is about to end, we can bring the end of
> the reign of quantity a few steps closer by looking into ourselves and
> making sure that the values by which we guide our lives are more than
> merely economic ones."

There is a common ground where people of good will meet no matter what
their beliefs or lack of belief. It's important to keep that in mind
when exploring the interesting differences between various belief systems.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #14 of 63: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 17 Jun 13 20:31
    
You've clearly spent some time with _A Course in Miracles_. What
impact has the Course had on your thinking? 
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #15 of 63: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 18 Jun 13 09:46
    
And, could you please say more about what it is about the Course in
Miracles that attracted you and kept your interest?
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #16 of 63: Paulina Borsook (loris) Wed 19 Jun 13 11:45
    
upcoming exhibit at the contemporary jewish museum in sf on the
spiritual in modern art


http://www.thecjm.org/on-view/upcoming/beyond-belief/about
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #17 of 63: Richard Smoley (richardsmoley) Fri 21 Jun 13 06:30
    
I've spent over 30 years working with A Course in Miracles. I became
interested in it quite inadvertently. In 1980 I was flying out to move
to San Francisco. I bought a copy of Psychology Today to read on the
plane, and it had an article in it entitled "The Gospel According to
Helen." It was about A Course in Miracles (Helen Schucman was the woman
who channeled it, allegedly from Jesus Christ). I found the article
interesting but didn't think much more about it.

It was only several months later, when I was in a bad mood over a job
that I didn't get, that I saw a used set of the Course in a bookstore.
I bought it as a curiosity and took it home. I started reading the
first volume, the Text, which did not make a great deal of sense to me.
But the Workbook had some easy-to-do lessons, so I started with those.
In the end I did the whole Workbook (365 lessons), and I found the
Course to be a work of remarkable profundity. It is the only work of
Christian theology that I have ever read that was completely logical
and self-consistent (i.e., it did not invoke "mystery" or "the will of
God" to weasel out of logical contradictions).

The Course has been called the only sacred text whose native language
is English, and I would be inclined to agree. It is certainly a work of
great insight and transformative power.

Does it do all that it says it will do? That is another matter. Since
the Course is said to work to the extent that you change your mind, if
it doesn't work that means you haven't changed your mind enough. At
this point I'm inclined to regard it as an experiment by some higher
being (Jesus or not; who can say?) to try to inject a new method of
spiritual learning in the world. Like all experiments, it's an ongoing
process, and has probably not been entirely successful. 

All that said, it's clear that enormous numbers of people, including
me, have had their lives changed by this work.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #18 of 63: Kevin Wheeler (krome) Fri 21 Jun 13 10:34
    
Enjoying the bits about Masonry and Rosicrucianism.  I devoured Robert
Anton Wilson's stuff when I was younger and most popular works(and
even some not so popular like Whittemore's Jerusalem Quartet which I
loved) are chock full of varieties of hearsay and conjecture, it's good
to get some straight information.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #19 of 63: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 21 Jun 13 11:07
    
I didn't realize that A Course in Miracles could be considered to be
Christian theology.  That puts a whole different light on it for me,
since I'm not Christian.  

What intrigues me about your experience is how it came to you at the
right time.  I appreciate that kind of synchronicity, and I always pay
attention to it.  In my case, after having the book on the shelf for
years, unread, The Teachings of Don Juan jumped off my bookshelf and
landed at my feet.  I ended up reading every book by Carlos Casteneda
that had been published at that time.  

That wasn't my first foray into the world of alternate realities, but
it was the most fascinating.  Have you read Carlos Casteneda's books,
and if you have, what are your thoughts on his writings?
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #20 of 63: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 21 Jun 13 11:42
    

> The Course has been called the only sacred text whose native language
> is English

I don't mean to disparage the value you find in that path, but I'm going
to nit pick a bit: The writings of Meher Baba such as God Speaks and
the Discourses are in English. Depending on the criteria you use for a
sacred text, the Anonymous "12 steps" books could be considered sacred
texts. The book of Mormon is another.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #21 of 63: Richard Smoley (richardsmoley) Fri 21 Jun 13 12:52
    
Of course, the Book of Mormon, if you believe Joseph Smith, was not
originally written in English but in "reformed Egyptian."

Carlos Castaneda: I liked the first book, but was never drawn enough
into it to want to read the others. But to give you some, as it were,
inside information. A friend of mine is the ex-wife of the late
spiritual and temporal head of the Yaqui nation. So it was natural to
ask her about all that. The only things she said were: (1) at one point
she had lived in a house belonging to don Juan Matus and (2) the first
book was reasonably authentic but the others were largely fiction.
FWIW--do they still say that on the WELL?
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #22 of 63: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 21 Jun 13 13:53
    
Yes, we do!  

Largely fiction!!  We also say, WTF!  I am so disappointed.  If he was
an anthropologist, why would he do that?  I liked the following quote
from the wikipedia article:

Castaneda was the subject of a cover article in the March 5, 1973
issue of Time.[6] The article described him as "an enigma wrapped in a
mystery." When confronted by correspondent Sandra Burton about
discrepancies in his personal history, Castaneda responded by saying:
"To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics...is like
using science to validate sorcery. It robs the world of its magic and
makes milestones out of us all". The interviewer wrote that "Castaneda
makes the reader experience the pressure of mysterious winds and the
shiver of leaves at twilight, the hunter's peculiar alertness to sound
and smell, the rock-bottom scrubbiness of Indian life, the raw
fragrance of tequila and the vile, fibrous taste of peyote, the dust in
the car, and the loft of a crow's flight. It is a superbly concrete
setting, dense with animistic meaning. This is just as well, in view of
the utter weirdness of the events that happen in it." Following that
interview, Castaneda retired from public view.

So, let's change the subject.  Let's talk about theosophy, something I
know virtually nothing about, although I've heard the names Rudolf
Steiner and Blavatsky mentioned in conjunction with the subject, and I
know you talk about it in your book.

It sounds complicated and contentious.  Could you summarize the basic
philosophy of the theosophists, and say something about the various
players involved?  Was theosophy something that people were interested
in during the early 20th century, but not so much now?
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #23 of 63: Kevin Wheeler (krome) Fri 21 Jun 13 14:09
    
FWIW & WTF served course not just WELLisms these days. JADP.
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #24 of 63: Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Fri 21 Jun 13 14:33
    
 %Z@
 ;
  
inkwell.vue.467 : Richard Smoley, Supernatural: Writings on an Unknown History
permalink #25 of 63: those Andropovian bongs (rik) Fri 21 Jun 13 17:29
    
"If he was an anthropologist, why would he do that?"

Money changes everything.  Adulation, too.
  

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