Jay Kinney (jay) Wed 15 Dec 99 10:20
John, you asked earlier: "You describe divination well in its various forms--but underlyingly, how does it work? Why should cards with symbolic pictures give us insight into now and glimpses of what is to come? You hint of this in various places--perhaps synchronicity is involved--but do you have some sense of the actual mechanism with which Tarot achieves what it achieves when it achieves it?" Although this was more Richard's turf than mine, I do have a few thoughts on it. First, that the mechanism at work doesn't come from the cards as such, or from tea leaves or entrails. Rather, these are external props that the pattern-seeking capacity of our minds uses to give a structure or language to our intuitions. And I think that it is possible for us to intuit where we are headed (or where someone else is headed) if we put our minds to it. That's one possibility. Another is that the randomness introduced into shuffling the cards, or into shaking an tossing coins or sticks, in the case of the I Ching, manage to reflect microcosmically what is going on macrocosmically at that given moment. This is not dissimilar to the notion that the array of fallen leaves under a tree, on an autumn day, "capture" the interplay of natural forces at that moment. However, there are too many variables at work to interpret hundreds of fallen leaves. But the limited and clearly structured Tarot cards or the I Ching's hexagrams and trigrams provide just enough variables to allow interpretation. That interpretation, again, depends partly on one's intuition and partly on the traditional interpretations attached to the cards or hexagrams. So, choose A or B...or come up with your own C...
John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Wed 15 Dec 99 11:10
Jay - both A or B work for me! to the extent that divination is valid, it probably depends on just those things and, one supposes, talented people who have a gift for tapping into those things., As you know, I do think that such people are far rarer than the New Age mindset would have us believe. Well if she didn't just hit on some things that seem right now by luck or intelligent guessing (she was after all a brilliant woman), Blavatsky probably had some valid teachers who knew their stuff. Re archaeology, I mentioned it but really I was thinking of things like the fossil record--but if it's true that in her version (which I admittedly dont know very well) people were once more or less immaterial, spirit beins or plasmic (and of course you could connect thatwith Biblical stories of angels pre Eden), then their society would have left few traces. I'm not sure how material they were supposed to've been in that last supposed million years of human civilization. Homo Sapiens is not a very old species...Doubtless Blavatsky tilled the field for eastern teachings in the West... What was it Gurdjieff said about the necessity of bringing the wisdom of the East together with the reason of the West and without this there would be doom? Something along those lines. That could certainly apply to the ecological catastrophe that might be waiting in the wings. Anyway I will resist further irritating nudges and pontification to give you time to answer my other questions, if you are of a mind to.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Wed 15 Dec 99 11:54
There is another issue, which has to do with how reality is perceived. Evidently aboriginal cultures like those in Australia seem to experience alternate realities much more vividly than we do. This kind of awareness is not only given more credence but it is cultivated. This seems to be true in other, similar cultures as well. Thus these legends of ancient times may provide an accurate record, not necessarily of hard reality as we would characterize it, but of the subjective reality of those eras. That would suggest why so many legends say that at one time the gods walked among humans. As for divination, I agree with what you said, Jay. You put it well and I don't think I could add anything that would improve on it.
Jay Kinney (jay) Wed 15 Dec 99 14:57
Another earlier question of John's was: "Can you say a little bit about those sources for this material [in Hidden Wisdom] which are more than just other books?" The sources other than books were our own experiences over the years, our conversations with other knowledgeable people in the field, and observations we made while editing GNOSIS. In many ways, GNOSIS served as a magnet for a lot of the wild theorizing and speculating that goes on in the occult and esoteric arenas. Early on, I took a fairly strict attitude towards a lot of the speculation in particular. There's a whole category of work in the field, such as _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_, which thrives on fairly wide-eyed gullibility. I preferred to keep GNOSIS apart from most of that, and Richard was largely in agreement with that approach. In any event, after you've seen your third or fourth independent communique about how the secret of the universe (and of the Grail, the Bible, and everything else) can be plotted on graph paper using triangles and pentagrams, you begin to realize that having some grand revelation is one thing...successfully communicating it is something else!
Jay Kinney (jay) Wed 15 Dec 99 15:14
By the way, before I forget, I should mention that I'll be participating in a Live Chat tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 16th) at 6 p.m. (Pacific time) - that's 3 p.m. EST, at http://www.wholefoods.com. I'll be discussing Hidden Wisdom (natch), so if you want the big thrill of asking me tough questions and getting immediate answers, come on by. Participation requires signing up at their site for the chat area, so come a bit early to get that taken care of first.
Jay Kinney (jay) Wed 15 Dec 99 15:28
Wait a second! I got the time scrambled for the Live Chat. It is still 6 p.m. (Pacific time) at http://www.wholefoods.com, but that makes it _9 p.m._ Eastern time, *not* 3 p.m. Yes.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Thu 16 Dec 99 08:00
To go back to an earlier question about a linking "perennial philosophy" among all these traditions, I would say that there not only is such a link but that the differences between various traditions has been grossly overemphasized. They can in most instances be ascribed to differences in emphasis or approach. Take monotheism vs. polytheism, for instance. What could be more apparently contradictory than these two views of the divine, for instance? But if you look at the various traditions, there are elements of both in each one. Judaism is rigorously monotheistic, for example. But there are the different aspects of God as revealed in his different names, schematized in the sefirot of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Similarly with Islam's 99 names of God. But if you go to a tradition like the Yoruba religion of West Africa, you find that behind all its multifarious deities is Olodumare, the supreme high god of which the individual divinities are just manifestations. Similarly in Hinduism the thousands of gods are simply manifestations of Brahma. So in this one area we can see that each tradition has a sense both of multiplicity and underlying unity. They may denounce each other and insist they are the best, but that can often be understood by the fact that we are effectively dealing with competing brands. There is not all that much difference between Coke and Pepsi (and for that matter all the other colas on the market), after all, no matter how many millions each may be spending to advertise its uniqueness and superiority.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Thu 16 Dec 99 09:51
To which I might add that the chief differences among all these faiths is their insistence that their particular founder or leader is the best, the last, or whatever.
Jay Kinney (jay) Sat 18 Dec 99 08:21
I got hit hard by the flu the night before last, shortly after the 'chat' at wholefoods.com, and was offline all day Friday. I'm feeling a bit better today, though it may just be all the cold medicines and pain killers I'm hopped up on...;-) In any case, I think we may have worked our way through most of the questions that John initially hit us with. Any more, John? Anyone else?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Sat 18 Dec 99 11:08
Jay, you and Richard have clearly explored a lot of different spiritual paths. If you don't mind revealing this, what path do you find best fits your spiritual needs and abilities to believe in this or that philosophy?
Richard Smoley (smoley) Sat 18 Dec 99 11:24
My own path started with a line of the Kabbalah - a non-Jewish line - that I was first exposed to when I was a student in England in the late 70s. Basically I just stumbled into this group; it was very small. But I thought it was very good. After eighteen years in California, with exposure to traditions ranging from A Course in Miracles to Tibetan Buddhism to Gurdjieff, I can only say in retrospect that I really didn't know how good it was. I must say I'm still in contact with the people I met over there and have only the greatest respect for what I learned and continue to learn. It gave me, among other things, the framework for exploring lots of other traditions. Organizationally, these groups are today known as Saros and the Kabbalah Society; they are very similar in inspiration but different in terminology. You can check out their Web pages (each has one) if you're interesting.
Jay Kinney (jay) Sat 18 Dec 99 12:03
I was raised in 2 or 3 different protestant denominations up through high school. During my college and art school days I was practicing yoga, taking classes from the Integral Yoga Institute. I was also a member-at-large of the Theosophical Society for several years. I had good friends in San Francisco in the '70s who were kabbalists, magicians, and alchemists. Starting around 1981 I studied with a gnostic teacher and participated in training with a unique gnostic church. That continued down into the late '90s. I've also been working with Sufis in Istanbul for the last 7 years or so, and that has been my main practice for some time.
John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Sat 18 Dec 99 13:04
Did you answer all my questions, was your question...Well these two may have gotten lost in the general barrage of verbiage: About alchemy--isn't there, kind of, two parallel tracks in alchemy...One, a kind of occult chemistry, trying to make the philosopher's stone, etc, and the other an inner work which uses the traditional alchemical experiments as symbolism? Sort of like what you said about that final enigmatic Hiram ritual in Masonry--all those enactments and seemingly concrete measurements and designations are just indirect ways of describing work in the heart: the work of learning detached compassion, higher receptivity and self denial. This work is transformative--it makes a rough stone into a polished block of the temple or lead into gold. Gurdjieff and Mouravieff speak of creating 'gold' or a special energy (or spiritual evolution) which the cosmos requires of us through the inner 'furnace', the productive conflict of transforming forces, eg Conscious Suffering utilizing the Law of Three--isn't that what alchemy is really about? Could the actual lab work be a too-literal distortion of the real teaching? (There are parallels in Chinese alchemy and Taoism--Lao Tzu's Taoism the real teaching, Chinese alchemy a distortion of it). Finally--in the excellent chapter on Gurdjieff, you say that all traditions use mindfulness but Gurdjieff places it (mindfulness and use of attention and the relationship of these to the movement of esoterically-understood energies) at the center of his Work and makes a sort of art of it, provides more specific methodologies. Seems true to me. I see in the chapter on ritual magic that attention, total focus, is important there too--attention is the axis of mindfulness, perhaps. And attention--a refined, "buffed up" mental attention--seems to be a fundamental tool of many esoteric traditions, maybe of all of them. Is mental (and sensory) attention itself--within the field of mindfulness-- an almost-palpable magical thing in itself?
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 18 Dec 99 18:40
Having not read the book, and not being familiar with you or your work, I am at a disadvantage here, but I am curious to know about the role of spirituality in your lives. Is writing about it and researching it your main, all-consuming work and passion or do you also have other work that is not related to your spiritual practice? Also, I would love to know if you cover the subject of mystery schools in your book?
Jay Kinney (jay) Sat 18 Dec 99 19:26
I think I'll let Richard respond to the Alchemy and Gurdjieff questions. It is more his turf... Regarding your question, Linda.... I'd say that researching and writing about spirituality was my main work while GNOSIS was being published, (from 1985 to 1999). And it is still central, in that we're talking about the book and its subject areas. However, I think that I'll be taking a break from the research and writing in particular area for awhile, starting next year. I've got other areas of interest as well. For instance, I'll be guest-editing half of an upcoming issue of Whole Earth on the subject of beyond left and right politics... As far as mystery schools go, are you referring to the ancient Greek mystery schools? Or some other specific mystery schools? We didn't cover the ancient Greek mystery schools, because there isn't really a tradition of them continuing to the present, and we were emphasizing things that have a presence in the contemporary world but also stretch back...
token beast (satyr) Sun 19 Dec 99 11:09
Richard, in #10 (actually posted by David), said: > Much of esoteric teaching has to do with a subtle sense of > differentiation between this "I" and "the world." Slowly detaching > consciousness from the objects of consciousness. That would seem to be a realm within the scope of western science. Specifically, one might build a practice upon the combination of neurology, artificial intelligence (in particular that branch of it identified with Marvin Minsky), cognitive science, and philosophy which accomplishes that goal. But, at least for the time being, I can't say the same of Jay's > But I've come to the conclusion, over the years, partly based on my > own experiences and observations, that there is individuated > consciousness outside of bodily existence and that one can speak of > beings being stratified in different planes of existence. in #17, which seems beyond the reach of science. Leaving aside that which it is unable to address, do you see something akin to a spiritual teaching developing out of the path which passed through Descartes and Newton?
Jay Kinney (jay) Sun 19 Dec 99 14:27
Good question(s), satyr. My take on them is that when Richard spoke of "Slowly detaching consciousness from the objects of consciousness," he wasn't referring to the kind of external neutrality or objectivity associated with science, but rather with the the internal experience of consciousness cut free from the usual 'subjects' that it is preoccupied with. In other words, if our consciousness is usually attracted towards external stimuli, what occurs when we pull it inward? And once we pull it inward, what happens when we learn to separate it from its habitual thought patterns, anxieties, fixations, etc.? I'm not sure that this is a realm into which science can go, since science is dependent of external/instrumental verification and repeatable phenomena.
Richard Smoley (smoley) Sun 19 Dec 99 15:01
Yes, Jay, that was pretty much what I had intended. It could tie in with John's question about alchemy. The gold of the alchemists is consciousness. It is said that you must have gold to make gold - that is, you have to start with what little consciousness you have in order to increase it. That could be said to be what spiritual practice is about. Alchemy in the practical sense was (as I understand it) based on the recognition that this consciousness exists, in however embryonic a form, in all things. Alchemical transformation is based on the premise that gold (literal gold, that is) is more conscious than base metals. The process of alchemy was in a sense a way of awakening the "consciousness" in the prima materia so as it enable it to become gold. I want to stress that this is the theory as I understand it. I am not an alchemist and have no practical laboratory experience of any kind. I am not saying that this in fact is what happens or even that it is possible. I personally suspect that it is, that physical reality is far more malleable and fluid than even the wildest of quantum theorists would concede. But I don't know firsthand. As for science itself, I think its role in our understanding of ourselves is a complex subject. Science as we know it began in the seventeenth century with Bacon, Descartes, Ashmole, and Robert Boyle - all of whom had esoteric contacts. One could say that there was a decision taken by the "conscious circle" of humanity to divorce science and religion and allow them to pursue independent courses for several centuries. Again I believe that eventually they will converge, but I don't know when this will happen. It probably won't in our lifetimes. All of this talk about the Tao of physics and quantum spirituality, etc., strikes me as little more than speculation and an attempt to jump the gun on harmonizing the two. There are, of course, more serious and profound attempts at a reconciliation, of which, I think, the greatest and most influential has been Teilhard de Chardin's. Well! That's a lot of ground covered in a short space. I hope it's more or less comprehensible. I personally dislike long postings and tend not to read them, but I will go on to Linda's question briefly. The mystery schools were, as I understand it, an attempt to awaken the higher consciousness that was latent in each of us. This was done through ritual (for the most part) though probably there was theoretical and practical instruction as well. The closest things we probably have to them is the initiations in Masonry and other lodges, though it is also said that they are preserved in some of the rituals of Christianity. At the risk of being repetitive, I have to say that this too is speculative. The initiates of the old mysteries were sworn to silence and kept their secrets well. We know of what went on there only through indirect evidence.
Indra Sinha (indra) Mon 20 Dec 99 03:07
Do you find any connection between the physical practices of alchemists and those of certain gnostic sects like the Borborians or Eleutherians?
Richard Smoley (smoley) Mon 20 Dec 99 08:14
I personally couldn't begin to answer that question. I just don't know enough about alchemists' practices, and I wonder seriously whether anyone really knows what the Gnostic sects of old did. Where would we find out? There are magical papyri, it's true, and the accounts of them written by their enemies, the theorists of the nascent Christian orthodoxy. But I would suspect that this evidence is fragmentary and unreliable enough so that nobody really knows. On the other hand, who knows - there may be someone working on a dissertation on this subject at Cambridge or Leiden who could answer this all in detail!
Jay Kinney (jay) Mon 20 Dec 99 08:48
Are you referring, Indra, to the speculation that both alchemy and some gnostic sects may have been utilizing Tantric-like sexual techniques as a means of raising consciousness? I think it has been posited that since some ancient gnostics (and more 'recent' outcroppings such as the Cathars) frowned upon bringing new souls into the trap of the material world, that they practiced coitus without ejaculation, which is also a Tantric technique. Kenneth Rexroth also speculated that alchemist Thomas Vaughan's writings referred to this practice. The problem, as Richard indicates above, in proving any such theories is finding solid evidence after the fact. ;-)
Jay Kinney (jay) Mon 20 Dec 99 09:19
However, I must say, that opening The Works of Thomas Vaughan *at random* I immediately found the following (p.300): "To conclude: I say the grand, supreme mystery of magic is to multiply the Prester and place him in the moist, serene either, which God hath purposely created to qualify the fire. For I would have thee know that this spirit may be so chafed - and that in the most temperate bodies - as to undo thee upon a sudden. This thou mayst guess theyself the the 'thundering gold,' as the chemist calls it. Place him then as God hath placed the stars, in the condensed ether of his chaos, for there he will shine - not burn; he will be vital and calm - not furious and choleric. This secret, I confess, transcends the common process, and I dare tell thee no more of it. It must remain then as a light in a dark place; but how it may be discovered do thou consider." !!!
John Shirley (johnp-shirley) Mon 20 Dec 99 12:06
It seems to me that Vaughan is talking about a spiritual process; a transfiguration of consciousness. Which seems to me to support my premise that real alchemy is purely symbolism for an internal process. Ancient spiritual teachings come down to us muddled with superstition. Like the idea that literal gold is more conscious than literal lead. It does seem that some conscious circle has been guiding things, in a loose "sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing" kind of way. LIke children set aboard a ship, who find the captain has died, and must, by degrees, learn the working of the ship themselves. SLowly, with false starts, they move us toward the western shore. Gurdjieff spoke of them. "I am small man compared to those who sent me."
Indra Sinha (indra) Mon 20 Dec 99 15:21
Yes, I was thinking of tantric alchemy which involved some rituals designed to sublimate life fluids into a potent spiritual force. Tantric alchemical ideas sound very like those of some gnostic sects - particularly the ones I mentioned. Since these things don't appear in Indian literature until about the 3rd or 4th century AD I always thought they must have come from the west. I knew of Vaughan's description of the western alchemical process in sexual terms 'menstruous substance', 'matrix of nature', 'universal sperm' etc, but don't know anything more about the western tradition, hence my question.
Jay Kinney (jay) Mon 20 Dec 99 16:37
Re John in #48: That Vaughan was speaking of a spiritual process and transformation of consciousness doesn't preclude that he may also have been speaking of a sexual-somatic methodology. I don't think that there is an either/or with alchemy. I think it is quite possible that it was a sufficiently rich symbolic vocabulary and structural framework that different people could pursue it for different ends: physical, spiritual, psychological, sexual-magickal, etc. I personally know a latter-day alchemist whose critique of Jung is that he didn't give enough credit to the physical/lab side of it. But this friend doesn't rule out the psychological or spiritual sides, either. He just says it is all these things simultaneously. As for the conscious circle guiding things... I was, perhaps, more inclined to give credence to that while Gnosis was still a going concern. That the magazine could last as long as it did seemed, in a way, to be evidence that "we were doing the right thing." However, at the point where it was just organizationally, financially, and psychologically impossible to continue, I had to ponder whether this was because we were no longer doing the right thing, or because our task was complete, or just the grindings of late capitalism. The conscious circle hasn't called to fill me in and they sure haven't set me up with a nice pension. I guess it's still an open question... ;-)
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