Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Twilight of the Neopagan Era

I think most people with any kind of connection to the contemporary American occult scene have noticed by now that the great wave of pop Neopaganism that came rolling up the beach in the early 1980s, and crested right around the turn of the millennium, is flowing rapidly back out to sea. That should come as no surprise to anybody who knows the history of American alternative spirituality.  Thirty to forty years is the average lifespan of a spiritual movement once it finds its way into pop culture, and the Neopagan scene, having dutifully passed all the other milestones along that overfamiliar trajectory, is reaching the one marked “Road Ends Ahead” right on schedule.

The latest data point to come my way arrived via a Druid friend who visited last weekend, and who mentioned that all of a sudden people she knows are starting to describe themselves laughingly as “recovering Pagans”—not, please note, in the sense of Pagans recovering from something else, but in the sense of people recovering from Paganism—and giving away their Pagan books and trinkets to their remaining Pagan friends. Again, that’s standard. In the 1930s and 1940s, you could find any number of people who laughed and said, “Yeah, I used to be into Theosophy back then.” The cycle before then, the object of those reflections was the apocalyptic liberal Christianity—yes, there used to be such a thing—that reached its embarrassing conclusion of the Great Disappointment of 1844; the time before that, it was the evangelical Protestantism of the Great Awakening that kicked off in the 1720s and kicked the bucket in the 1760s, and so on.

The same cycle of emergence and decline happens in radical politics, and there’s an interesting synchronization between the two. By and large, they alternate in popular culture. Thus a great many of those people who used to be into Theosophy in the 1920s got into political radicalism of the left or right during the 1930s, just as a good many former political radicals of the 1960s and 1970s ended up in some kind of alternative spirituality in the 1980s—Protestant fundamentalism, the New Age movement, Buddhism and other Asian religions, and Neopaganism all got their share. It’s a regular rhythm in  the history of American popular culture, going back as far as there’s any distinctly American popular culture at all, and it can be charted more or less like this:

1720s-1760s: Great Awakening era (spiritual focus)
1770s-1800s: Revolutionary era (political focus)
1810s-1840s: Transcendentalist era (spiritual focus)
1850s-1880s: Populist era (political focus)
1890s-1920s: Theosophical era (spiritual focus)
1930s-1970s: Socialist era (political focus)
1980s-2010s: Neopagan era (spiritual focus)
2020s-2060s: ??? (political focus)

These names are somewhat arbitrary.  The Transcendentalist era, for example, was also the heyday of Unitarianism, Millerism, and the first wave of Mormonism, just as the Theosophical era was also the heyday of American Freemasonry and of a dizzying assortment of magical and fraternal lodges. In the same way, “Populist” and “Socialist” are broad labels, the first embracing everything from abolitionism and classic populism to first wave feminism, the second covering everything from Roosevelt’s New Deal to the New Left of the late 1960s and early 1970s. There are always political movements in eras that fixate on spirituality, and spiritual movements in eras that fixate on politics; the point at issue is how the center of gravity of certain modes of pop culture moves between these two poles.

Oceanographers will tell you that the waves that sweep the ocean don’t actually carry water with them. The water rises and falls with each wave, but it normally ends up pretty much where it started. The same thing is true of most of the people who get caught up in the waves of collective enthusiasm that sweep through human societies from time to time. There’s always a certain very modest number of people who are drawn to alternative spiritualities, just as there’s always a slightly larger number of people who are attracted with equal force to radical politics of various kinds.  At intervals, those cultural minorities suddenly find crowds showing up on their doorsteps, eager to take part in what they have to offer, and then after a certain period the crowds head elsewhere and the people left behind get to clean up the wreckage resulting from what normally amounts to a thirty-year binge.

That’s not an easy thing to do, especially if the people left behind have bought into an ideological stance that defines them as the cutting edge of the future, or what have you. Still, there are benefits to those who stick around for the cleanup, and one of them is that it becomes possible to repair some of the damage and distortion that always befalls an alternative spiritual tradition when it gets redefined and relaunched as a pop culture phenomenon.

I’m not sure how many of my readers realize just how drastically the currents that became modern pop Neopaganism got remanufactured for their debut on the mass market. Until October 31, 1979, to be precise, Wicca and witchcraft—the two were, and are, not quite the same thing—were two rather similar flavors in the sprawling ice cream parlor of contemporary occultism, much less sharply differentiated from the other flavors on offer than their proponents today generally like to think. To the extent that they weren’t simply sex clubs with exotic decor, they filled a recognized niche in the occult scene of the time, and functioned in ways that didn’t have a lot in common with their equivalents today.

For example, the claim that Wicca could trace its lineage to the witches of the Middle Ages, or for that matter the goddess-worshipping civilization of ancient Crete—I’ve been told that this latter point was one of the secret teachings of quite a lot of Wiccan and witchcraft groups in the 1970s—didn’t have the same emotional loading it’s had for a great many Neopagan groups since the 1980s. Now of course occult traditions in those days, by definition, claimed ancient origins. There were groups whose origin stories traced their lineages back to just about any romantic source you care to name: ancient Egyptian mystery temples, conveniently untraceable Himalayan monasteries, the sages of lost Atlantis, seventeenth-century Rosicrucian mystics, the Knights Templar, the Pythagoreans, the Essenes—why, even the ancient Druids!—and the list goes on.

Medieval witches and Cretan priestesses were just two more colorful imaginary heritages to choose from, with no more cachet than any of the others. Though novices sometimes took such claims literally and the management of the various orders and traditions tended to stand up stoutly in defense of their truth, serious occultists knew that such claims are meant to energize the imagination and jolt the mind out of its ordinary ruts. In other words, they’re cut from the same cloth as the notion that Masonry started among the builders of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem; they’re tools for work with the self-image, not supposed statements of historical fact.

One measure of the distance between this approach and the less nuanced habits of later years can be seen in a rarely remembered fact:  before that day in 1979, it was quite common for practitioners of magic and Pagan spirituality to also be ordained as Christian priests and bishops. It may come as a shock to many of my readers to learn that there are alternative Christian churches, a fair number of them, that are comfortable not only with magic and occultism but also with other gods and goddesses. Some of them are still around, but they could be found much more easily back in the day, and a great many occultists took that opportunity to add the distinctive Christian style of occult philosophy and sacramental ritual to their toolkits. 

Thus Gerald Gardner—yes, that Gerald Gardner, the inventor of Wicca and student of Aleister Crowley—was ordained as a Christian priest by one esoteric Christian church while he was busy promoting Wicca. Later on, while he was still very active in Wicca, he was consecrated as a bishop in another such church.  Dion Fortune, whose work with the goddess Isis was ancestral to much of modern goddess-centric Paganism, was also a devout if eccentric Christian who wrote a book of mystical meditations on the Collects of the Anglican service, and Ross Nichols, the founder of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids and one of the most influential figures in 20th century Druidry, used to invoke Celtic gods and Christian archangels very nearly in the same breath. That sort of thing was routine among occultists.  Being a witch or a Wiccan in those days, like being a Druid, a Rosicrucian, an Essene, a Christian, or what have you, was a matter of study and practice rather than of personal identity, and so you could be more than one thing at once without any sense of contradiction. 

There were many other differences, of course. The movements that turned into modern Neopaganism were, like nearly all other occult groups at the time, initiatory orders in which candidates had to work their way up a ladder of degrees—and “work,” by the way, was the operative word; if you wanted to advance, you had quite a curriculum of studies and practices before you. They kept a very quiet public presence for a variety of good reasons, and they were generally fairly strict in deciding who to admit to membership, but they weren’t that hard to find if you were looking for occult instruction. Pick up a copy of any of the mass-market magazines that once catered to the American public’s taste for the weird, and you’ll find plenty of quiet advertisements telling you that a letter to Scribe Z at PO Box mumble mumble will get an informative pamplet and an application for membership by return mail.

Were there abuses? Sure. Were some occult orders in it for the money, or for other dubious ends? You bet—though it’s probably worth noting that Neopaganism has had no shortage of either of these. Despite these familiar difficulties, the groups that kept America’s occult traditions alive during an era of general neglect formed a stable, tolerant, largely functional community with its own networks of lodges, private libraries, correspondence courses, magazines, and book publishing programs.

Then came October 31, 1979. On that day, publishers in San Francisco and Boston simultaneously published Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon and Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance, the books that invented modern pop Neopaganism. I use the word “invented” intentionally; I’ve lost the reference, but Adler admitted in print that while her book presented itself as an objective survey of Pagan groups in America, it was written to push the nascent Neopagan scene in specific directions she thought it ought to go, a goal it achieved quite handily. The Spiral Dance pursued the same goal in a considerably more direct manner—it simply presented, as “the ancient religion of the Goddess,” a near-total rewrite of Wicca that scrapped most of its traditional content in favor of second wave feminism, California goddess spirituality, and self-empowerment psychology.

Both books were massive commercial successes, Starhawk’s at once, Adler’s a little further down the road.  They were followed by a torrent of similar books, as other authors and publishers tried, with no little success, to cash in on the shift in the zeitgeist. Old classics, and old not-so-classics, were promptly hauled out of cold storage and reprinted. By 1985 or so, for the first time since the heyday of Theosophy, you could go into a big bookstore that catered to a general audience and count on finding an occult section that had something other than cheap astrological annuals and collections of scary stories for the Halloween market.

Two previous trends in the publishing field helped pave the way for Neopaganism as a pop-culture movement. The first was the explosive growth of paperback nonfiction (and, shall we say, pseudo-nonfiction) as a mass market publishing phenomenon. The paperback revolution that rattled the American book publishing industry to its core in the 1950s focused on fiction; entire genres, such as science fiction, that had been published almost entirely in pulp magazines up to that time suddenly found a niche in 25-cent paperback novels, which sold by the boxcar to literate, affluent postwar readers. The late 1960s saw speculative nonfiction invade the same dime-store 25-cent paperback novel racks. 1969 was in many ways the watershed year, with Carlos Castaneda’s wildly popular hoax The Teachings of don Juan and John Michell’s engagingly weird treatise of visionary landscape mysticism The View Over Atlantis just two of the alternative-reality bestsellers that year.

The omnivorous appetite for marvels that made these and many like them successful was probably kickstarted by Sixties drug culture, but it zoomed off in a galaxy of different directions, and occultism was among the many things that got swept up in the resulting publishing frenzy. Most of the books on magic and the occult that appeared in mass market paperbacks during the 1970s were astonishingly bad, focusing on the cheap-thrills end of the subject to the exclusion of nearly everything else. There were occasional gems—the first serious book of magical instruction I ever owned, Techniques of High Magic by Francis King and Stephen Skinner, first appeared in a lurid mass market paperback edition meant for those same paperback racks—but they were few and far between. That fed the appetite for explicit instruction in magical spirituality that made Starhawk’s book a roaring commercial success.

There was, however, a second and even larger trend in publishing that fed into the same phenomenon, and it’s one that contemporary Neopagans tend not to talk about in this context. Still, if you attend a Neopagan event, you can see its stigmata everywhere: just look for dragons, unicorns, and faux-medieval clothing. What do dragons, unicorns, and faux-medieval clothing have to do with magic or the worship of Pagan deities? Nothing at all, but they have everything to do with the other pop-culture phenomenon that drove the rise of Neopaganism: the great fantasy fiction boom of the 1970s.

It can take a remarkable effort these days to remember that until the early 1970s, fantasy fiction wasn’t a genre of its own yet. When JRR Tolkien’s sprawling trilogy The Lord of the Rings first saw print, for example, at least one American reviewer hailed it as an interesting new work of science fiction, and most of the other pre-1970 works that get lumped together as fantasies were simply part of the broad current of general literature when they first appeared.  The overwhelming commercial success Tolkien’s trilogy had in its US paperback release basically created the genre; an assortment of older pieces that all featured swords, wizards, and faux-medieval settings, even if they had nothing else in common, were drafted to provide it with a prehistory, and legions of avid fans proceeded to start writing stories full of swords, wizards, and faux-medieval settings, which were promptly added to the genre.

I can testify to this with unusual clarity, as I was one of the fans in question, and wasted way too many reams of paper on embarrassingly derivative hackwork fiction packed to the groaning point and beyond with swords, wizards, and faux-medieval settings. I also played Dungeons & Dragons and an assortment of other fantasy roleplaying games, in which swords, wizards, and faux-medieval settings were de rigueur, and got underfoot in those same years in the Society for Creative Anachronism, which was short on wizards but had an ample supply of the other two; and it was no accident that I also took up magic in those same years.

It took me quite a few years—most of my teens and the first few years of my twenties—to extract myself from the resulting tangle, and see clearly that magical training is not about wallowing in faux-medieval anything, nor is it a matter of make-believe and dress-up games. Mind you, I don’t have anything against make-believe and dress-up games, nor in wallowing in the faux-medieval whatnot of your choice; I still read plenty of fantasy fiction, and enjoy it hugely; but these things aren’t magic in the practitioner’s sense of the word, and I don’t confuse them with magic. There are people in the Neopagan scene who are clear on the same distinction, but I’m far from sure they’re in the majority.

The interpenetration of popular fiction and popular occultism is actually a very common feature of periods in which American pop culture swings in the direction of magical spirituality. The heyday of Theosophy saw plenty of examples of the same sort of thing; Marie Corelli, John Uri Lloyd, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton were among the authors back then whose work helped shape the pop spirituality of the era. Nor, of course, does the influence go all one way; toward the end of each such era, you start seeing plenty of imaginative fiction that takes the imagery and ideas of the pop occultism du jour and feeds it back to audiences eager for more of the same. Robert E. Howard, who set the stories of Conan the Cimmerian against a backdrop drawn largely from Theosophical writings, was an example from the last time around; Marion Zimmer Bradley, whose bestselling The Mists of Avalon rehashed Arthurian legends against a backdrop of generic California Neopaganism, is an example from this cycle.

The problem that arises when fiction becomes a driving force behind any kind of pop occultism is twofold. First, of course, fictional magic quite reliably has fictional effects, rather than real ones, when people try to practice it. I’m convinced that one of the core reasons why there’s currently a movement in the Neopagan scene to dismiss magic as useles superstition is that too many people have taken too many of their ideas about magic from fantasy fiction, and this has accordingly brought about a steady decline in the capacity of too many Neopagans to magic their way out of a wet paper bag. (There are other factors pushing in that same direction, too; we’ll get to one of those next month.)

There’s a subtler problem, though, which is that fantasy fiction by and large reinforces the idea that magic belongs to places full of dragons, unicorns, faux-medieval clothing, and the like, rather than to the world we inhabit here and now. That, I’m convinced, is why the trappings of fantasy are so thick on the ground at Neopagan events, and why they’ve penetrated some distance into other branches of the occult scene as well: if magic needs the trappings of fantasy, providing those trappings can be one way to get past that mental block temporarily and try to do some magical work. That’s a trick with limited applicability, though, and it’s a much more useful tactic to get out from under the mental block—but for a variety of reasons, that latter option hasn’t been very popular of late.

The detritus of fantasy fiction is just one part of the refuse that’s going to have to be hauled out by those of us who are still around and still practicing magic as the Neopagan era draws to its close, and the crowds who’ve thronged Neopagan festivals and kept suppliers of faux-medieval clothing in business go rushing off toward whatever political movements take center stage in pop culture hereafter. I don’t think it will do any harm to the unicorns to see them returned to their natural habitat in fiction, and it may be a lot of help to aspiring mages, who will no longer be tempted to confuse wallowing in a romantic medieval haze with the hard work of studying and practicing operative magic. Still, there’s another thing that will have to be done, and that’s the rehabilitation of occult philosophy and its study—something that was thrown out with the trash early on in the Neopagan era, and will have to be hauled back out of the dumpster, given a good scrubbing, and put back in its proper place. We’ll talk about that next month.


Urban Harvester said...

This is a bit late... I thought I would beat you to this months post...

Part 1
JMG, I want to thank you for those last three posts. They have been very pertinent for me and and have really gotten me thinking deeply and productively.

It seems that there is an interesting dichotomy that unfolds from the logic behind the 'magia sexualis' phenomenon.

If the efficacy of a magical practice tends to be improved when it transgresses a personal/social taboo by which one is affected;

and, on the other hand if the pursuit of practices which used to but no longer have the social tension that contributed to their power can be less productive or counter productive;

then, to effectively make change in conciousness in accordance with will, one must continuously seek out a space of personal/social discomfort while taking care to prevent those practices that work from becoming abstractions themselves.

Crowley's pursuit of ever more transgressive acts seemed to play him into the hands of his critics, becoming a black-sheep, his hopes for his ideal social change dashed (which we can most likely be grateful for) and his own state of conciousness likely depressed. I'm reminded of practitioners of the law of attraction who insist on attempting to manifest ever more daring (a.k.a. transgressive) desires, regardless of the limits on nature or economy. When they crash, they also become something of black sheep - but sheep that are a little to close to heart for the reality police to be able to critique too strongly. I suppose that the pursuit of sex magic for itself as the most holy of mysteries, or the pursuit of ever more shocking and transgressive acts as Crowley did, becomes yet another abstraction like those of the space bats, and serves to distract people from the concrete reality they want to change.

Before they end up catatonic in a heroin den, practitioners of the law of attraction and of space bats optimism alike could retreat from such transgressive acts of positive thinking and practice... what is a similarly subversive analogue to defacation magic here? As sex:defacation so is positive thinking:what?....retrotopic thinking? :) A handful of similarly subversive ideas would be quite useful here, because stoicism tends to fall flat.

Urban Harvester said...

Part 2

I'll venture to guess that we won't see the kind of sexual liberation we read about in 'Ecotopia' surfacing as the key to overcoming the ills of industrial society in 'Retrotopia'. Whereas the ordinariness of pursuing sexual satisfaction in the world of 'Star's Reach' illustrates a world that crashed despite its sexual liberation. It is interesting that in Fortune's 'Sea Priestess', the protagonist does become a black sheep after his powerful polarity magic (less the sex but not the scandal) and has to re-find himself in a new community which doesn't play into the same the negative circular roles and he is able to regain his verve for life and magic and community.

As far as what it means about the nature of reality being such that the closer you are to directly experiencing it, the easier it is to change... I live in a very restrained neighborhood, which endeavors to enforce the values of the religion in which I was raised, values which I am trying hard to shed because they are antagonistic to the callings of my soul. I recently bought a pipe and took up smoking because I have some back pain and I have mullein growing in my front garden which when smoked can sooth back pain. Not only did the act of picking, drying, and smoking this plant bring me closer to the aliveness of my garden, there is a certain mental/emotional strength and clarity that comes with the act of smoking my antique tobacco pipe on my front porch. To explain - my neighbors have strict taboos on smoking tobacco, taboos which were actually quite hard for me to break after a lifetime of living them (not in the least because of neighborly judgement of the 'our kids can't play with the heathen kids' sort). Yet in most parts of the world I know it is perfectly normal, if perhaps considered unhealthy, to smoke a pipe. However, I know that mullein is quite benign when smoked, being used even as a treatment for astma, and the act of smoking itself intimately connects me to a plant that showed up on my doorstep of its own accord. After starting this practice, I have felt a pronounced strength and resolution in the feeling of being my own person, yet I can also see that smoking my pipe will lose its cache eventually and will not always continue to bring me this strength on its own... but then my back pain may not last forever either.

Thanks for the food for thought.

Glenn said...

Having participated in the SCA from the age of 11 (met both of my wives there) and observed the SF Bay Area wiccan/witchcraft/feminism scene first hand as a kid in the late '60's and early '70's, I'd say you nailed it. It explains a lot of what I saw, including the early years of the SCA when it still wasn't certain if it was going to be historically oriented or a Tolkienesque mythopoeic group.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

sgage said...

Yes, MZB's 'Drawing Down the Moon' was a watershed, along with Starhawk's book. But I well remember earler on, during my high school and early college days, the zaniness that was afoot. It seemed like everyone was selling something, something exotic that you'd never heard of.

One dynamic you didn't mention was that of recruitment. You didn't have to write to Scribe Z or anyone - they came to you. In the early 70's I was a target of recruitment for many groups, from the Children of God (remember 'flirty fishing'?), to the Baha'i, to the Rosicrucians for godz sake! And many, many more. I must have looked like a real prospect, which is ironic, since I've never been a 'joiner' of any kind.

Anyway, not surprised to learn that MZB was deliberately trying to push things in a certain direction - just a bit surprised that she'd admit it!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

If I may generalize, every generalization has exceptions. The 1890s-1920s, which you call the Theosophical Era, overlaps with the Progressive Era. For example, the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed in 1890, the Food and Drug Act in 1906, the federal income tax and direct election of Senators in 1913. This was a very lively period in American culture and politics. Even allowing for the political bias of historians, I think it would be hard to argue that Madame Blavatsky was more influential than Teddy Roosevelt.

Apart from that, I mostly agree, and will probably have more to say about the contemporary Neopagan scene later.

Jeffrey Kotyk (Indrajala) said...

Very interesting discussion. It really brings to mind the question of what enables spiritual traditions to last more than a generation of enthusiasts. Your last point about the need for "rehabilitation of occult philosophy" indicates one of those conditions: a strong underpinning of lore and philosophy to go along with the practice.

Interestingly, it seems in the community of astrology there's increased interest, especially as of late (last two decades), in going back to studying the forms of Hellenistic philosophy which originally justified and explained astrology. There's also a push to study the original pre-modern texts (Dorotheus, Ptolemy, etc.). This probably will secure its future because as the Neo-Pagan and New Age scene winds down and fades out of memory, astrology will carry on since it isn't attached too tightly to any trendy spiritual movement.

James M. Jensen II said...

Hmm. This post hit a bit close to home. I'll have to give it some contemplation.

One question that occurs to me: while each of the eras you've listed had numerous movements, at least in most cases the name you chose is one that had a profound, lasting effect on our society — for example, English lit classes assign readings from Emerson and Thoreau much more than Joseph Smith, and Socialism has lingered as a ghost whose memory haunts American politics ever since.

Are you suggesting that neopaganism will have that kind of lasting effect? And if so, what do you see as the most likely expression of it?

Patricia Mathews said...

Thank you. I've been aware of the cycle for a quarter of a century, but it's good to be reminded of it, and have where we are in it pinpointed for us.

I dumped a couple of bags of trinkets and toys at an auction for our local "college of witchcraft and wizardry" at Magical Mountain Mabon, and a whole bunch of books at the neopagan church's annual afternoon tea party giveaway table, not because I'm getting out, but because I'm stripping down to the bare essentials needed for a simple lay worshiper/practitioner at the lowest level. Aging out, that is.

Not that the Renfaire aspect of the neopagan scene hasn't been fun, and even informative. The overlap between the pagan Renfairies, the science fiction people, the people doing handcrafts, the SCA, the serious medievalists, and the seriously retro and/or green would make a Venn diagram only a crochet pattern could do justice to. And huge numbers of them are politically to the left of even the old center, so a transition to political activism is not unexpected.

At any rate, it was a fun ride while it lasted. Now, as you said, people can get down to business. "And the balance of the wheel goes round and round, and the balance of the wheel goes 'round."

Pedro Ribeiro said...

Fascinating article. Forty-one years is one fourth of a Neptune cycle, and Neptune is linked to spirituality, imagination and illusion.

Pedro Ribeiro

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@sgage--Margot Adler wrote Drawing Down the Moon. Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote Mists of Avalon. They lived on opposite coasts and would not have been easy to confuse when they were alive.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

JMG, I got connected with Neopaganism in the early 1970s in what was then the liveliest Pagan scene on the West Coast. It was pretty arty, in a countercultural but not militant way, and its leaders were well educated. I too mark the publication of Drawing Down the Moon and The Spiral Dance as a watershed moment. I liked DDM because it mentioned a lot of people I knew. I was mildly disappointed with TSD because although it was a serious work which reflected the author's priorities rather than some publisher's marketing department, it wasn't much like the witchcraft that I favored and I couldn't use it. I agree with your assessment of Starhawk's approach.

The San Francisco Bay Area Neopagan community of the 1970s was very welcoming, collegial and noncompetitive. Most of the organized groups in it were less than ten years old, and the leadership was extraordinarily permeable to new groups and individuals. Starhawk was a relative newcomer when she published The Spiral Dance.

The pre-Seventies witches and Neopagans, when an interest in magic and polytheistic religions was regarded as weird by everyone else, certainly had an insider mentality, but they did not divide the world into Us versus Them. From the late 1970s on, persecution narratives and self-righteous celebration of victimhood became increasingly prominent in Neopagan culture. A little of this can be good for group cohesion and safety, but any cult that overindulges in it generates a reality distortion field that isn't healthy.

I'll post later about current developments.

onething said...

But why the oscillation? That is, why shouldn't occult/paganism be a more permanent feature in society?

sgage said...

Can't believe I got Margot Adler and MZB conflated. You should have read what I meant, not what I actually wrote :-)

Patricia Mathews said...

@ Pedro. Yes, indeed. And the outer planets are said to govern the longer cycles of a generation, a megacycle, and a civilization. By the time you get to Pluto, well, my generation essentially split into 2 halves: the wannabe GIs and the wannabe Boomers. This matches, not perfectly but roughly, the Pluto in Cancer people and my own Pluto in Leo crowd. The "War Babies" whose earliest conscious memory was of WWI and/or its end are Pluto in Leo.

@onething -- because times change. The times of the great spiritual revivals are after the last Crisis is over and the next one is far in the future. The times of political activism are the times when the economy has gone into Hecate's Cauldron and war looms on the horizon. For the latter, I strongly suggest Studs Terkel's HARD TIMES. The "forty years after" quotes come across as "these people are clueless and blind!" whereas Depression survivors speaking of the same ring so many bells (or turn on so many light bulbs) it comes across as "Red Alert! Red Alert!"

Dean Smith said...


Fascinating post. When I first started studying / practicing occult techniques a few years ago I wasn’t really sure if that also made me a Neopagan. After reading a few neopagan blogs and attending a local pagan pride day event it was precisely the role playing aspects written about in your post the was for me personally not a “boat floater”. That and the tendency in not a few of the blogs I was reading to be thinly veiled political / dogmatic agendas. Not to mention comment sections that were rather bone chilling. It sort of smacked of the the political rants I was exposed to as a youngster in the Evangelical Christian community. I rather quickly realized that although I had a strong interest in the esoteric and occult, I did not have any interest in Neopaganism as written about or practiced as I was seeing. That being said it (the Neopagan scene) seems like a pretty large community with all the various conventions and various political activisms around the country and what not. I’ve often wondered if Neopaganism as it now exists is headed down the same road of inflexible dogmatism that so many in it’s ranks profess to hate about Christianity. Dunno, I’m not a practicing Christian anymore, nor do I desire to join the Neopagan ranks, not for me. Anyways as always a very thought provoking post, thanks!

John N. said...

Extending the timeline further, we could imagine

2060s-2090s: Retrotopia era (spiritual focus)

The mind boggles at what Mr. Carr might encounter in the right places.

I never was active in any neopaganism despite my curiosity, and the "romantic medieval haze" is probably to blame for that. Also people using it to openly work through any childhood issues that arose from a strict Christian upbringing.

Cliff said...

there are alternative Christian churches, a fair number of them, that are comfortable not only with magic and occultism but also with other gods and goddesses.

Huh. My brain seems to have exploded.

I think you hit on the exact reason why I've been so magic-averse for most of my life.
I grew up in deep rural western Colorado, with a lot of books of mythology, fantasy, and science fiction around. Between the close access to nature and the books on mythology, polytheism seemed (and seems) like a natural, healthy worldview.
Meanwhile, I was (and am) a rabid fan of science fiction and fantasy, but it was always clear to me that I wasn't going to be throwing fireballs and changing shape any time soon.
So as I grew up and found out about the broader Pagan scene, I couldn't understand the emphasis on magic. It seemed silly to me, because all I knew about the matter was out of fantasy books. Meanwhile, Wicca seemed to largely disregard the gods, further losing my interest.

It wasn't until you started this blog that I began to understand magic as a sort of operative philosophy, a way to (among other things) alter my worldview and deconstruct the mechanistic mindset that I've been infected with.

So thanks!

rawillis3 said...

agree nine-tenths of castaneda is fiction, but not sure "hoax" is entirely fair. what juan matus has to say about the nature of reality, and the disciplines and practices he offers, are essentially sound. creating uncertainty whether this is fiction serves the same function as the faux-medieval stuff, engaging the reader in a shift of awareness.

John Michael Greer said...

Harvester, why, yes. As for sex in Retrotopia, that's a matter for the other blog, so here I'll just say "stay tuned"!

Glenn, thank you. I was underfoot in the SCA in An Tir in the late 1970s, and saw much the same thing.

Sgage, I'm startled to hear that the Rosicrucians tried to recruit you -- most of the Rosicrucian groups in the US were past masters of the "write to Scribe Z" brand of quiet availability.

Unknown Deborah, ahem: "There are always political movements in eras that fixate on spirituality, and spiritual movements in eras that fixate on politics; the point at issue is how the center of gravity of certain modes of pop culture moves between these two poles."

Jeffrey, I've watched that shift in astrology with some interest, and contributed to it a little (by way of the translation of Picatrix I did with Chris Warnock. It could go into the very unproductive sort of "Dorotheus said it, I believe it, that settles it" fundamentalism that's also rife in some parts of the Neopagan community these days, e.g. much of Celtic Reconstructionism, but it could also lead to a much broader understanding of astrology, one that gets out of the obsessive psychological focus of the post-Rudhyar era.

James, it's going to have a huge impact, just as the Theosophical era did -- it's not accidental that the Golden Dawn, the most successful of the Theosophical era's magical traditions, remains a towering presence today. One of the things that happens during the eras where politics rather than spirituality is central to pop culture is that the legacy of the previous era's occultism gets combed through and sorted out, and the best achievements of that legacy become central to enduring magical traditions.

Patricia, I found the whole things by turn entertaining and irritating, but that's a personal thing.

Pedro, interesting. That might be worth further exploration.

Unknown Deborah, that matches other descriptions I've had of that scene. Me, I was pursuing solitary studies in the south Seattle suburbs during those same years; I read The Spiral Dance when it first came out, and promptly returned it to the library and went on to WE Butler, Dion Fortune, and Israel Regardie.

Onething, good question. Why do hula hoops, swallowing goldfish, Barack Obama, or anything else go in and out of fashion? What we know for a fact is that they do go in and out of fashion.

Dean, exactly. I'm an occultist and an operative mage, not a Neopagan, and that's been the case all along.

John Michael Greer said...

John, yes, that's an issue as well. Too many of the Neopagans I've met, when they start into how horrible the Christians are, could teach Jung a thing or two about projecting the shadow...

Cliff, 'tis an ill wind that blows no minds. ;-)

Rawillis3, of course the teachings Castaneda worked into the don Juan books are worth attention -- Castaneda got them out of his very wide reading in the mysticism section of the UCLA library. There's an excellent anthology, The Don Juan Papers edited by Richard DeMille, which you might consider reading sometime -- it spends a fair bit of space discussing Castaneda's sources, and exploring the ways that Castaneda put valid spiritual teaching into the mouth of an imaginary guru.

Bill Pulliam said...

Hmmm, I am not sure you are not, perhaps in part, projecting your own personal boredom with Neopaganism onto society as a whole. I have not noticed attendance at festivals dropping, and it is not just gray hair either. What I have noticed over the last 3 decades is a fading away of dogmatism and a lot more communication, respect, and interplay. Nobody gives a flip anymore whether Wicca was invented by Gardner or by ancient Cretans, or the priestess lineage of your initiation. The Old Guard Asatruar may have taken their mead horns and gone off to play by themselves in disgust, but a whole new crew of young, nordic sorts have taken their place who seem to care more about actual honor than about the correct pronunciations of the names of the runes. And they still like their mead, of course, and they still like to play dress-up. Maybe the decline in dogmatism and factionalism is actually part of what you identify as the end of neopaganism. But I am not actually seeing a decline in passion and sincerity, if you look at the younger cohorts.

The heyday of the neopagan phenomenon you describe in the 90s happened to coincide with the peak of the "image is everything" phase of American society as a whole. The distinction betwene dressing up as something and actually being that thing somehow just got entirely lost -- all across American culture. Since the turn of the millenium the undercurrent of the quest for authentic authenticity (rather than manufactured authenticity) has been gradually growing in the mainstream and the countercultures, subcultures, and alternative cultures.

Also, when I think of the predominant spiritual movement of the last 30-40 years or so, I don't actually see Neopaganism as having been all that big a part of it. The predominant force was the so called "New Age" revival. Neopaganism may have been a part of this, but it was not the predominant player. For most people it's crystals and meditation and yoga and past life regressions and vaguely hindo-buddhist concepts of spirituality, reincarnation, etc. Throw in a little Harneresque neoshamanism and just a semi-comic sprinkling of Starhawk, and that is what most Americans experienced as the "spiritual movement" of the 1970s to the 2010s. They may know the term "Wicca" but they probably know little about it other than that it involves goddesses and pentagrams somehow.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Familiarity has indeed bred contempt and the crowds have moved on to the next thing; good luck to them. That's the big trend. Here are some smaller trends I've observed since the 1990s:

1. Popular Neopaganism has influenced some mainline Protestant churches to include language and imagery of the Divine Feminine in their liturgy, and to give the living Earth more respect. The only data point I can cite is this, which is apparently a completely legitimate though oddball Lutheran congregation:

2. In national and international interfaith organizations such as the North American Interfaith Network, the United Religions Initiative and the Parliament of the World's Religions, Wiccans and Neopagans representing small organizations have become influential above their numbers and have made alliances with practitioners of indigenous religions and some ecological scientists.

3. There is a fresh round of cult formation going on, reconstruction of various kinds of European and Middle Eastern polytheism. Many people who are doing this find the "pagan" label problematic.

4. Neopagans and Wiccans have begun, with some success, to organize nondenominational Pagan institutions such as libraries, seminaries, academic associations and outlets for journalists. This marks both a shift from the countercultural ethos of 1970s Neopaganism and reduction in the influence of people who identify as Pagans primarily in reaction to a Christian upbringing.

Somewhatstunned said...

JMG said (in response to Dean):

I'm an occultist and an operative mage, not a Neopagan

Hmmm, JMG. I come, as it were, from a very different place to most of the people here, so I sit very quietly at the back and try to be polite. I found that sentence genuinely puzzling (well actually I find much of this blog puzzling, but it doesn't particularly bother me as I mostly like being puzzled).

Could you possibly distinguish for me bewtween "polytheist" (which I know you are) and "neopagan"? Until I read that sentence I'd have said they were almost the same thing. Obviously not!

ed boyle said...

I find this blog interesting but if I had read your other blog without a basis in resource decline, PO I would be at a loss. What is a good text for beginners or is this all only for initiates ? Is magic(not kid's tricks) of practical use in daily life? Is this a religion or can I do it like aztrology, i ching, etc. as a hobby? Sorry for being so obtuse.

Patricia Mathews said...

@Bill Pulliam - thanks for the reminder. Before I aged out of the festival scene, here's what I noticed:

Two things. The large festivals are full of young people, and even babies. All ages up to the point where you're too old to endure it physically. I'm sure there are smaller groups out there I never heard of doing their thing.

The back-to-the-landers at Sunflower River Farm in the South Valley are in their 40s, just like my kids, I think. Deep green and going strong. (At least 2 of then get their cash income from jobs at the University.)

And then there are the groups I belong to and call "the same 5 old ladies." Who once *were* the Community. Whom some of the newer ones barely know about, and came up apart from on their own. Pne wave rises, the other falls.

ourgreattransition said...

I am now up to date :) Thank you for this very enlightening blog.

This post for me brings up some interesting parallels to my background which is in homeopathy. Unfortunately homeopathy got badly sidetracked by the whole New Age movement, and I think homeopathy in the UK and US is destined to go through a huge reduction in popularity - indeed it has been for the last 10-15 years. Naive discussions around the 'law of attraction' and 'the secret' were unfortunately far too dominant in classes. Real study of philosophy and the occult (and even homeopathy) unfortunately seemed to be too much like hard work for most. The saddest thing about that whole New Age/The Secret movement was its fixation on materialism and money. It was just a get rich quick scheme that used high sounding philosophy to obscure what was essentially a on offspring of the worst of neoliberalism - and everyone got to feel ok about doing so thanks to dressing it up in magical robes. The idea that the more you charged as a homeopath was intimately linked to your self worth was very pervasive. There wasn't a lot of real thinking going on, but lots of wishful thinking. Too much focus on 'I'.

Indeed homeopathy is no different to many alternative health modalities of recent times.

So I can see homeopathy going the way of contraction, and hopefully going back to some core principles, and throwing out the New Age nonsense. Of course will it go the way of the fundamentalists or the eclectics or some other unknown third path who knows... Whether I have anything to do with it or not I am still not quite sure.

It seems then that this is human nature when we organise ourselves into communities! A lesson I am still only just learning. So this has been a timely reminder.

I think I will just get on with my own occult studies and practices in solitude.

By the way, the last few posts have opened up many thoughts. Polarity would seem to explain the power of the forbidden fruit being one of them.

Mark Mikituk said...

You should come to France where homeopathic treatment is covered by national health insurance and tons(like really a *lot* of them) of GPs practice homeopathy as well as western style medicine. It certainly isn't thought of as occult science here because it is so common...
You will hate me for this, but despite the fact that I and my family are treated homeopathically more often than not, I still haven't decided for myself if it just relies on the placebo effect or is something more. I am up for a treatment in the next little while that will probably decide it for me once and for all though.

Mark Mikituk said...

I should add a rather amusing anecdote:
My GP is a practicing homeopath and will prescribe a homeopathic treatment before anything else. He is considered one of the best doctors in my town and it is pretty hard to get an appointment with him even if he accepts you as a new patient. In any case, a few months back he prescribed a homeopathic treatment for me (I was a lucky new patient and this was my first meeting), and I told him, "You know, I am really not convinced this stuff works better than sugar pills". And he just looked at me with a half smile and said, "It'll work whether you believe in it or not, so that isn't a problem."

James M. Jensen II said...


I think I have to agree with Bill Pulliam about the New Age being the really central spiritual movement of the last four decades. It seems to me that far more people follow the teachings of Ram Dass, Deepak Chopra, Carlos Castaneda, Alan Watts, the Dalai Lama, Terence McKenna, Wayne Dyer, etc. (not that all of those are/were New Agers themselves, but they got thrown in the blender) than follow the teachings of Starhawk or Margot Adler.

@Bill, all:

Interesting, and as a neopagan I hope you're right.

What I see as a big threat to the Neopagan community is the common and unprocessed prejudices against the Abrahamic faiths. As honestly-earned as those generally are, you can only cash the "{Other group} is evil! We're the answer!" check so many times before it bounces.

One of my friends who was a pagan who converted to Reform Judaism and lost nearly every friend he had in the process. He was even kicked off a pagan forum (note: there was no forum rule saying you had to be a pagan) that he'd been a member of for years -- knew many of the people personally, frequented the coffee shop that ran the forum almost daily -- on ludicrous accusations and without the standard one warning. When I pointed out how unfair this was, a number of the members either repeated the accusation uncritically and/or said he didn't belong there since he wasn't a pagan anymore.

Then there's the subject of Christian Pagans, a topic guaranteed to turn any comment thread toxic. I remember being a part of a YouTube community of pagans that exploded over whether one guy, a Christian Wiccan, was a real Wiccan.

James M. Jensen II said...

@ed boyle:

You can't go wrong with The Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune. If you can get past the somewhat dated language, it's a very good introduction to the Tree of Life and a good deal of magical philosophy.

However, either Learning Ritual Magic: Fundamental Theory and Practice or The Celtic Golden Dawn, both authored or co-authored by our host, may be the places to start. Both cover quite a bit of theory and practice, and are remarkably easy to read.

Finally, I have to recommend the one I started with: The Chicken Qabalah by Lon Milo Duquette. The author is a Thelemite, so it's slanted somewhat toward Aleister Crowley's ideas (and there are several in-jokes), but it's a thoroughly enjoyable read and absolutely hilarious.

Eric S. said...

What’s interesting about the timeline you posted is that the transition from popular spirituality to popular politics also seems to correspond every time with world shattering upheavals taking place in America: The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Meanwhile, the pop spirituality aspects of the cycle are somewhat quieter periods in American history. It leaves one wondering to what degree the collapse of popular spirituality leading to a mass exodus into political activism kicks off major periods of change and upheaval, and to what degree the slacking in interest in spirituality itself is a reaction to the early signs of crisis. Following forward to the 2020s, it looks like the same pattern of alternating calm (with a lively pop spirituality scene) and crisis (with a lively pop political scene) may very likely hold.

Regarding Neopaganism, I’ve been feeling lost in a lot of the infighting and attempts of invalidation of various aspects of spirituality (and yes, the role-playing spirituality element you discussed here) that’s been going on of late in Neopaganism. I love the myths and stories that inform this spirituality, though, I’ve thought about what would happen if I were to turn away from my relationships with the gods I love, and the thought of the emptiness that would be left, or of the invalidation of real, true experiences that would have to take place to truly turn away from that path is something I don’t think I could endure. And, of course, I’m trapped in that awkward state of being someone who has a deep need for spiritual community, and I really do love the friends I’ve made and the live that I’ve made in this movement. I suppose the best I can do is truly commit myself to representing the best of what the movement has to offer so that something robust can be preserved. I have started reaching out into other communities, though. I’ve started attending the local Quaker meeting once a month, when my grove doesn’t meet on Saturdays, and I’ve joined a local Masonic lodge, partly inspired by your writings on that tradition on the Archdruid Report, partly inspired by the death of my grandfather earlier this year. That’s wound up offering the sort of one on one personal instruction in mystery traditions that are harder to find in the digital age, and I’m glad I did it. It’s been nice having men in their 90s take me under their wing and tell me stories about the way things used to be, and it’s been fun (as someone whose spent most of my adult life immersed in Neopaganism) watching elderly Presbyterians call the directions and say “so mote it be” in ritual. And I think being drilled twice a week on pages and pages of ritual text and given regular texts from the Deacon reminding me to study has helped my occult practice some as well, I’m hoping that some of the leadership skills I’m learning there might also equip me to help my grove eventually as well. But I really do love the Pagan community for all its flaws, and even though I’ve been working to build other communities and other relationships, I really do hope that whatever happens, at least a small portion of the network I’ve built of people who find spiritual truths in the same myths, rituals, and philosophies I do will stick around.

David Spangler said...

John, tried to get in touch, but both the email addresses I have for you came back as non-functional. Just discovered your blog thanks to a friend who clued me in. Wonderful material. If you have a chance, drop me a line at my old email; it's still current.
David Spangler

DaShui said...


Was Don Quixote the original member of the SCA? Also the architecture of DC is very pagan. It seems these ideas of imitating what we want the past to be go way back, and transcultural, to mention ISIS.

nwlorax said...

Dear John Michael:

I'm not sure what Sara has been putting in your tea, but could you send me a kilogram or so? Please?

Something I feel compelled to mention as counterpoint is that magic has always been part of damned near all cultures. It manages to fly under the radar quite nicely, and to me what was unique about neopaganism (a term originally invented in 1904 to describe Yeats Irish Theatre in a most derogatory fashion) was how it overlapped with the fanzine culture.

From my memory of things,c. 1976 the Minoan "roots" were seen with a bit more complexity than you describe. There was a massive emotional pull that is still inexplicable to me, and most of my generation. I read all of the Thomas Burnett Swann novels, and to this day remember a night in 1976 when the mists were rising over Monterey Bay, and physically shaking with this very strong desire to strip down to shorts and walk into the ocean until I could hear the Gods singing.

I once described Westerners with esoteric leanings as citizens of Rome, going on pilgrimages to Eleusis, Alexandria, and many other whistle stops on the Spiritual Road Trip of the Pax Romana.

Many Americans feel rootless, and sense that they are lacking an identity of any deep sort. This has been a driver for political and esoteric pursuits since 1492. Things are not likely to get less crazy until there is an actual comprehension of the massive population losses (100 or so million) and ecological changes wrought by the Spanish, English and other "settlers" in the "wildernesses" of the Americas. Hell, Moses is now included in high school history courses in Texas as the very first American. Try wrapping your brain around that sort of nonsense, and you can see the outright lies driving cultural identity in the 21st century.

Kutamun said...

Auatralia is a classic place where one can observe the overlap between neopaganism and politics with our greens party which has members in both lower and upper houses . From its beginnings in tasmania , the greenies have grown and the rampant faux medievalism is regularly subject to taunts by rival political parties in both houses and by the community as a whole . The education minister recently rose in the lower house and stated " the greens view of our future is one of tiny hobbitt villages with swirling chimney smoke and lots of blueberries , and while i have nothing against blueberries mr speaker , i am quite sure can and will not replace mining , agriculture and forestry in the economic life of tasmania " . Extraordinary , really . Australians tossed out God mostly when Gough Whitlam came to power in the 1970s and he hasnt really gone the distance as a suitable replacement . Meanwhile , the Aborigines stand quietly in the background , those that are left whole , quietly shaking their heads while one lot worships holdays and flat screens and the other lot plays Gandalf .

Cherokee Organics said...


Well yeah, that seems obvious to me - and I agree, it clearly needed to be spelled out in plain English! Perhaps I'm simply too young to have been caught up in the whole medieval thing which I find to be not to my taste. To practice magic, all you need is what you are born with - the other stuff can become a crutch, it is useful - no doubt about that, but it can also become a crutch. Many things are like that in our society and I reckon it may be important to be able to note that distinction. But then some inanimate objects can gain power too just through sheer usage - dunno, it is a complex topic.

Incidentally, your essay brought a very amusing image to my mind of trying to fit the dark mages of Wall Street and Maddison Avenue into a particularly dark and dusty medieval setting whilst they are practising their black magic. They may even have a leather bound grimoire or two (the dark arts of advertising or some such tome).

My gut feeling is that magic will still be around even after humans are long gone. What do you reckon about that concept?



Dylan said...

My mind is also blown by the concept of Christian churches that are comfortable with magic, occultism, and other gods and goddesses.

I'm most of the way through A World Full of Gods and am finding it a very welcome and coherent walk-through of the case for polytheism, which up until now I'd been gleaning bit by bit from your blogs. This view resonates with my own experience more strongly than does the monotheistic Christian worldview I was raised in.

What's extremely interesting to me is that a polytheist sensibility, as I understand it, offers ample validation for Neopaganism, Indigenous spiritualities, and Christianity alike, among countless others. Which means that diverse traditions, instead of shouting variations of 'you-don't-exist-I-can't-hear-you' at each other, can actually sit down and talk like adults, letting each shine new light upon each. For those of us who uneasily inhabit stolen continents, that is a truly profound and uplifting proposition.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I agree with Bill Pulliam that the New Age scene has gotten way more popularity and press in recent years than paganism has, but it seems the same era you pointed out has also corresponded to the rise of evangelical and fundamentalist denominations of Christianity, as well as the dogmatic atheist scene. It also seems to me that all of those movements have now either already started declining or will soon begin their decline.

The 40-year trends are interesting, but I'm also thinking about how they relate to the longer term dynamic of the slow decline of Christianity in America (and much of the rest of the western world too). This slow decline may be speeding up recently, as many surveys have shown the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian drops considerably for younger generationss versus older ones, and it's not just a matter of younger people being less religious in general, as the percentages are also lower than the older generations had when they were younger. This trend holds in many different regions even if the starting points are different.

I believe this trend has influenced a lot of the movements of the last forty years. The dogmatic atheist scene gets most of its fuel from anger and disaffection toward Christianity, and so do a decent fraction of neopagans. The evangelical and fundamentalist Christian scenes seem in many ways a reaction to the decline of Christian domination of the culture at large. It's harder for me to see a clear connection with the new age scene, but disaffection with mainstream Christianity plays a part for many new agers as well.

If the decline of Christianity continues, this will change the situation eventually from earlier cycles in America. I'm the past, the rise and fall of the alternative spiritual movements took place in a culture with mainstream Christianity as the backdrop which reabsorbed most of those who left the declining alternative movements. This is less true now. At present, the majority of the increasing number of non-Christians in the US were raised Christian. If that's no longer the case in a few decades, religious (or atheistic) movements fixated upon opposing Christianity won't have the emotional appeal for as many people anymore.

One thing I'm wondering is what makes the difference between a movement that declines after 40 years or so and one that picks up momentum and lasts for centuries or even millennia as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism etc have.You've mentioned before a new religiosity will likely pick up momentum as the decline and fall of our civilization proceeds. How does that fit in with your 40-year cycles? Do you not expect that to happen until after 2060 or so?

John Roth said...

Whoops! I seem to have accidentally put the same post in both forums.

What I should have posted is:

Interesting post.

Your list of eras is plowing the same ground that Strauss and Howe did in Generations and Fourth Turning (which has absolutely no relationship to Korten’s The Turning. Perish the thought.) The dates are almost exactly the same, although you’re calling out different streams of events. Your comments cleared up a number of puzzles for me.

I haven’t been around our local neo-pagan scene here in Albuquerque to tell whether it’s trending, falling apart or treading water. I have noticed that there’s less interest in magic than I’d expected, although our local CUUPS group will be having a session on magic early next year. Our divination night is next month.

rawillis3 said...

re castaneda. i did read de mille's earlier book when it came out, back in 1976. i was no longer reading castaneda after his fourth or fifth book, not because i was in any way disillusioned, but because other daily concerns intervened -- and not necessarily for the good. i held onto the fourth book, "tales of power," and still find it worth re-reading from time to time.

amusingly, i think the idea you can be "in two places at once" through the dream body sort of negates the criticism he said he was here when the objective documentation says he was there, but that is not really the point.

the point is he popularized some ways of understanding the nature of reality that western materialists do not readily grasp, and the ambiguity whether this was fiction was itself a central narrative device.

Bill Pulliam said...

Those who think that infighting among neopagans and bashing of the Abrahamist is somehow a new thing in the neopagan world might need to talk to some of the old-timers. Virtually every U.S. city with a significant neopagan community went through "Witch Wars" in the 1990s. Though cloaked in matters of dogma, they were mostly about personalities, and were no different than the sorts of fracturing and infighting that happen in just about all human groups. Folks is folks. I heard a joke told once that if four Tennessee ministers were stranded on a desert island together, they would establish the Northside Church of Christ, the Southside Church of Christ, the Eastside Church of God, and the Westside Baptist Church and spend every Sunday preaching against each other. As for the bashing, I actually feel relieved now that it has toned down so much from the way it was in earlier decades. But whenever you have a minority culture you are going to have a lot of people in it who feel that they were seriously wounded by the macroculture and have a lot of pain and resentment towards it. Nothing new or unique there. Queers can have all sorts of biting things to say about breeders, too. And lordy lordy do the evangelicals feel victimized by the secularists and vice versa, and both will sure as hades give you quite an earful about the other if given a chance! Again, folks is folks.

Alexandra said...

Very interesting. Maybe some intuitive, subconscious sense of Neopaganism's decline is why I have never really been able to identify as a pagan. I can't quite put my finger on what it is that sends me fleeing. Then again, maybe it's just because I'm not a joiner. Is "eclectic solitary magical esotericist" a thing?

I'd be curious to know, JMG, if you have noticed any similar alternating cycles in other countries/cultures, or do you think it's a uniquely American thing? I'm also curious how you would situate druidry, and as others have said, the New Age vis a vis Neopaganism. The New Age strikes me as more a form of Theosophy--perhaps Theosophy Lite--than anything else. I could see it as an example of the more robust traits of Theosophy surviving past the decline of that pop-spiritual phase (which is not to say those traits are particularly laudable--if I never hear the word "lightworker" again it'll be too soon--but their prevalence certainly speaks to the power of their appeal for many).

Alexandra said...

Oh, one other thought--I've noticed that in the past couple of years, the plethora of paranormal shows have gradually started to replace ghosts with demons, black magic, and evil witchcraft. And more and more I'm seeing the "witch" depicted as a kind of non-human monster, rather than a person with a particular skill set and/or belief system. When I first started noticing these changes, I thought it was just a matter of producers trying to up the scare factor (which is doubtless part of it), but lately I've been wondering if it indicates growing hostility toward and--as it were--demonization of alternative belief systems in American society.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, how many people attend festivals isn't necessarily a good measure of what kind of impact Neopaganism is having on popular culture, nor of how many people are active in the scene as a whole! There's also a regional factor, of course, as we've discussed before. The South is conservative in the best sense of the word, as well as several others; I expect that long after Neopaganism has declined elsewhere to the sort of status Theosophy and Spiritualism have today, it may still be chugging along comfortably south of the Mason-Dixon line. (Come to think of it, I believe Spiritualism did much better much later in the South than elsewhere.)

Unknown Deborah, well, yes. You could say much the same thing about Theosophy in the 1920s, when it was on its downslope.

Somewhatstunned, let's start with the difference between "polytheist" and "Neopagan." A polytheist is someone who believes in the existence of more than one deity. A Neopagan is a participant in a particular religious and cultural movement that got going in the late 1940s in Britain, and became a pop culture phenomenon around 1980. Many Neopagans are polytheists, but there are vast numbers of polytheists -- for example, most Hindus and practitioners of Shinto -- who aren't Neopagans.

An occultist is someone who studies and, in one or more of any number of ways, practices a set of philosophies and spiritual disciplines that have been historically stigmatized in Western culture and that have thus inherited the label "occult," that is, "hidden" or "secret." Magic, alchemy, and astrology are important examples of occult disciplines. Some occultists are polytheists, some are monotheists, some are pantheists, some are atheists, some never do make up their minds. Is that a bit clearer?

Ed, it's not a religion, though it tends to be more than a hobby! I'd encourage you to pick up my book Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, wnich among other things answers your question in some detail.

Ourgreattransition, I know! I use biochemic cell salts as a major part of my family's home health care, and so have some exposure to the ways that homeopathy has been used, and misused, in recent years. Fortunately, as Mark Mikituk points out below, the Anglo-American world isn't the only game in town.

James, there may have been more people paying at least cursory attention to the New Age, but my take is that it's had much less of an overall impact, not least because the New Age movement is basically a rehash of early 20th century New Thought -- it's been called "Theosophy plus therapy," and all things considered that's not a bad description. My take is that the Neopagan movement has had a far more sweeping impact on pop culture -- it's kicked off dramatic transformations in attitudes toward magic and other occult sciences, made goddess worship respectable in many circles, etc., etc. Those will likely endure long after the silliness is forgotten.

Eric, yes, I noted the same thing: political eras start off with a bang, and sometimes with a series of bangs. As for your experiences, yes -- I think part of the reason why Neopaganism is waning is that it's aroused expectations in many people that the movement in its current form can't meet. I've long since lost track of the number of people I've met -- but it's literally in the hundreds -- who found out about Neopagan polytheism, leapt into one or another of the big organized groups, and withdrew months or years later, depressed and upset because of the mismatch between the promises and the tawdry realities.

David, let me see if I can scare up your email; if you don't hear from me in a week -- I have very irregular internet access just at the moment -- please put in a comment marked "not for posting" with your email address, and I'll be in touch promptly.

John Michael Greer said...

DaShui, I think I met quite a few Knights of the Woeful Countenance in the SCA!

Gordon, interesting. I was basing my comments about ancient Crete on some things I'd heard from Corby Ingold among others -- and of course from watching the pervasive influence of Robert Graves...

Kutamun, I dunno -- I find blueberries far more appealing than strip mines and clearcut forests!

Cherokee, occult philosophy has it that magic is simply our word for the process by which the universe comes into being, so as long as there's a universe, there will be magic.

Dylan, exactly. There's ample room for everybody in a polytheist conception of religion, which is one of its great appeals to me. That and the mere fact that it describes religious experience more accurately than the alternatives!

Ozark, good. The 40-year cycle is superimposed over larger cycles, of course. An enduring religion is one that manages to grow more in its cycles of expansion than it loses in its cycles of contraction.

John, yes, I'm somewhat familiar with Strauss and Howe, and though I'm not at all sure I agree with their causative mechanisms, we're talking about some of the same things.

Rawillis3, "ambiguity" is kind of an oversubtle word for presenting something as nonfiction when it's fiction. That said, as noted earlier, I don't deny the value of the books; Journey to Ixtlan was always my fave.

Bill, well, yes -- and I can match any Neopagan witch war story you want to offer with equivalent stories from the heyday of Theosophy and the Golden Dawn, for that matter. You'll notice that I didn't cite witch wars or Christian bashing as evidence of anything in particular, though.

Somewhatstunned said...

Thankyou for your reply JMG, yes that is perfectly clear :)

(I might possibly detect a slight note of testiness in your reply - though probably I don't and it's just the way things come across on the limited medium of the internet. Anyway that makes me want to add that these distinctions aren't at all obvious to someone who is "outside" the various communities you are talking about, even though your reply falls into the category of "seems obvious, once I've been told".

Why am I interested? Well, the term "neopagan" does crop up occasionally in the wider world, I'm interested in culture, human behaviour, belief, and I keep an eye on this blog because it does (inter alia) deal seriously (and interestingly) with epistemology - something that has interested me since I was a child)

Btw, I have read a world full of gods which I thought a terrific piece of work).

ourgreattransition said...

@mark mikituk no not at all, in my darkest moments with it I still wonder if it's just elaborate placebo sometimes. That's funny what your doctor said though, and true in my experience.

I have often heard that in France it is widely practiced and by doctors and pharmacists so that's good to hear. On the contrary here there are only a handful of doctors still practising it and very few pharmacists. You can still get it on the NHS in places though, however the skeptics are making sure that option will go away soon...

I'm about to take on a smallholding and will be looking after animals and currently learning about homeopathy's use with farm animals. Now that is fascinating. I've got 'real' farmers telling me they now use homeopathy for the majority of their animals' ailments because it works well for them. That is where I would like the conversation to go when people talk about placebo (which we often denigrate, though its complexity very misunderstood) - I'm not sure how you get a group of farm animals to buy into placebo! Why some of the larger homeopathic pharmacies don't fund more research in this area I'm not sure...

Whether it's a medical science or something more esoteric - I think it's both and I would like to see it continue as such. Unfortunately many want it to be one or the other. Homeopathy has always drawn those who are interested in the occult to it. But homeopathy is very good at ripping itself apart - it's interesting reading the comments here that that is happening to neopaganism too (along with the persecution complex, chastising those who disagree and so forth)

@JMG yes I was very happy to see your blog discussing the usual fallacious arguments made against things like homeopathy!


Phil Harris said...

JMG wrote: “Cherokee, occult philosophy has it that magic is simply our word for the process by which the universe comes into being, so as long as there's a universe, there will be magic.”

I feel prompted – my apologies - to barge in. Perhaps magic is also the process by which the universe is no longer here? But that which is not here still leaves its mark? And if we can read the marks, then we come into being?

My Anglo-Saxon ancestors loved riddles, but I was always troubled by them. I have been prompted just now to google “transient life of the soul” and “the transient life of the soul”. The most interesting result seems to be an Islamic discussion
For example, “The Qur'an and Sunnah give us only a limited knowledge concerning the soul.”
This sounds about right, but their mission discussion goes on to an extensive set of conjecture and assertion, about which I might borrow Bill’s phrase: “Again, folks is folks”.

I keep telling myself that I am out of my depth on this blog and will not comment, and then am tempted again!


Patricia Mathews said...

@ John Roth - you're in CUUPS here in Albuquerque. Were you at the Mabon ceremony Jay and Becca from Sage Temple presided over? I was there sitting near the East quarter, whose caller and her husband won the costume contest at Bubonicon for their portrayal of the Curies. Small world!

@JMG - The mechanism, "that there arose a generation that knew not Joseph," proved itself to be horribly true in our own lifetimes, as people with no conscious memory of the Great Depression gleefully did away with all the safeguards "that are standing in the way of Progress! And Growth!!"

Strauss & Howe omitted that one driving factor, for the same reason fish don't mention the wetness of the water, just its currents. The belief in Progress, and that young people do, will, and often should, rebel against their elders. A lot of this would have been far more muted in the time of Hesiod, frex.

Though I .... and Archbishop Wulfstan of York from 1000 years ago ... can pinpoint Round One of the megacrisis that brought down Anglo-Saxon England 40 years after his Sermon of the Wolf to the English. I said in a class paper that a clearer description of a massive economic collapse that Wulstan's was not to be had in that millennium. Was the Faustian ethos in full swing then that far north? It assuredly was among the Normans, though Round One was against the Danes, who were plain barbarians. Crowned and baptized barbarians, but marauding warbands even so.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG - the bashing and infighting observations were more directed to the thread as a whole as several people had said things along those lines, not at you per se. "Don't call it a sign of the times when it's always been that way."

As I reread my comment while reading other's replies, a thought occured to me... my observation that the young norse folks seem less concerened with detailed reconstructionism and more interested in actual values may be the sort of thing you are talking about as the wave shifts from "spiritual" to "political." Forget the pentagrams and costumes, there is an ethical system that has evolved lurking underneath all the play acting and dress up, and perhaps this will play a role in deciding whatever "2020s-2060s: ??? (political focus)" turns out to be.

Meanwhile, in the present-day plotical realm, the strongest hurricane ever recorded is pointed at Mexico, while the climate change deniers grandstand about Bengazi...

Aubrey Romero said...

I myself don't have much, if any, experience with the waves of change in the political or spiritual worlds. I was born in '81, and raised in West Texas by strict southern baptists. Despite this, I thought, lived, and breathed magic. I just had to learn to keep it to myself, just safer that way. Until I moved to Washington State 6 years ago, I had not even met anyone claiming to be any type of pagan. Nearly a year ago, I moved back to Texas from Monterey. It was time to be part of some sort of community. This has been a difficult task. I have met quite a few fluffy bunny pagans. Serious study and in depth conversations about magic have been next to nil. Conversations on polemic politics and who your favorite character on Supernatural is... well there is plenty of that. Among other things that I just don't have the words for.

Your comments on the writings of Margaret Adler and Starhawk really solidified a vague discomfort I have had about most of the writings I have read. I do have a desire to study and learn, put into action things that I'm learning, but I have absolutely no interest in being led down the yellow brick road or my spiritual experiences to be superficial.

I am highly considering looking more into druidry. Also, it may be well worth it to check out the druid coffee hour. Driving an hour to Austin will be worth it if I get to meet people who can and will carry on an intelligent conversation. Looking forward to next month's post.

Christopher Kildare said...

Dear Mr. Greer:

First I want to say how much I enjoy the thought-provoking content of your blogs and books. I also really enjoyed this post, partially because I am a grad student of anthropology studying alternative spirituality, and because I have strong Pagan sympathies despite being a devout and confirmed Anglican (so of course I love the works of Dion Fortune, Gareth Knight, Ross Nichols, etc.)

If I can make a couple points:
1)Are you familiar with the theory of the cultic milieu by sociologist Colin Campbell? In a nutshell he argues that there is an underground culture of esoteric religions, unorthodox sciences, and alternative medicines which enables the formation of groups which practice these; and that because they aren’t as enduring as mainstream groups they dissolve and their beliefs and practices become incorporated in to new groups. These beliefs and practices are also incorporated into mainstream culture by alternative periodicals (like you mentioned) and when institutes of mainstream orthodoxy lose their monopoly on what is considered truth and valid.
2) A small town in Edwardian New Zealand also saw a mixed milieu of medievalism and alternative spirituality through the Havelock Work; where morris dancing, Elizabethan courts, and faux-medieval clothing occurred with many also interested in the Golden Dawn, Anthroposophy, alternative medicine, and an Arthurian-based mystical group.

Again, I really enjoy your work. May the blessing and protection of the Boundless Mystery be upon you and your loved ones.

“Christopher Kildare”

John Roth said...


You asked if the cycles applied to other countries. Strauss and Howe trace the cycle back to the era of the Withdrawal from France and the War of the Roses in England, and mention that they have seen evidence in other countries. I don’t hang around Strauss and Howe’s forums much, but the last time I looked there were some comments about that from other people. A recent channeling from Michael is that the driver behind the cycles is from the other side, with examples from native American culture from just before Columbus. (i.e. - I don't put a lot of credence in their drivers either.)

@Patricia Matthews

No. I’m kind of a fringe character in most things. I’ve been a member of First U for a few years, and decided to look at the CUUPS chapter to see what’s happening. It’s been almost a year now. I’m going to their Samhain ritual tomorrow night, and the local ADF ritual the next night because they’re both on the First U campus. Outside of that, I was at Pagan Pride for an hour or so. Frankly, I'm not much for ritual. I think my attitude to things magical is more what I've seen called the "empty hand," although I could be using the wrong words.

Mark Mikituk said...

Your farm animal example was rather convincing for me; even if I wanted to play Devil's Advocate and suggest that the practitioner's belief was somehow influencing the animals, I would be merely replacing one "occult" phenomenon with another.

With regard to placebo type phenomena as a whole; I would agree that it is in fact a proof of the idea of universal "occult" medicine rather than some descriptor which should, as it unfortunately is, be used as a derogatory term.

The origin of the word placebo itself is rather entertaining. In case you are not aware of it; it comes from the fact that in previous centuries anyone could show up to a wake to offer their condolences and thereby benefit from the food and drink offered there. Thus, their actual intentions were hidden by a false piety. "Placebo" was the first Latin word uttered at a wake in the Office of the Dead and means "I shall please".


Mark Mikituk said...

It has just occurred to me that it might seem strange to some that I placed the word occult between quotation marks. My reasoning is that I see the term occult in two partially separate ways: “Occult” is what our cultural history has deemed to be occult, but perhaps can be known and spoken about, whereas some things actually are occult, and will forever be so.

For example, the concepts of God, or the gods, are actually occult, and can never be fully known. Full and total knowledge of them is in fact the road to madness, and there is a reason why, in the Hebrew tradition, the true name of God can never be spoken. It is an allegory for the fact that true knowledge of God(s) cannot be communicated because he is ineffable, because one can only reach towards that knowledge alone, and because if ever that knowledge were to be communicated, it would immediately be corrupted by the very nature of communication. Therefore, attempting to communicate the truly occult is a corruption of God(s), and it is for this reason that one of the rules of the initiate shall always be: REMAIN SILENT.

...nothing original here, by the way.


ed boyle said...

I ordered mystery teachings plus celtic golden dawn and learning ritual magic. Reading reviews and online descriptions of druidic practice, as well as from my yoga and tai chi practice and irish catholicism I am encouraged in taking a step in a new direction. As I have dabbled in numerology, lucid dreaming, astrology in west and eas, am concerned with ecology, personal transformation I hope to give these books a chance.

Tidlösa said...

A question for the participants. Isn´t there some kind of connection between Neopaganism and politics, specifically radical-liberal politics (including feminism), or I am just out on a limb here? If there is, what does the decline of Neopaganism mean politically? Will the Neopagans become more conservative? Or will they move into "secular" rad-lib politics (Sanders, for instance)?

I admit that I never took Neopaganism very seriously - it looked extremely "artifical" to me, but then, somebody might say the same thing about Theosophy or Mormonism (or Christianity! - a peculiar blend of mystery paganism and Hellenized Judaism), so perhaps my impression is purely subjective. Still, the pop culture angle (Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, etc) adds to the artificial feeling, but perhaps it´s different in the U.S. where the culture is dominated by pop culture?

SLClaire said...

Starhawk has claimed in print that she was not attempting to do historical scholarship or archaeology in The Spiral Dance. In her introduction to the so-called special 20th anniversary edition of The Spiral Dance, here’s what she has to say about that. The quote begins at the bottom of page 3.

“Finally, were I writing today I would probably be more cautious about the history I present. In researching a film on the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, I’ve become aware of the controversy that rages in academic circles around the history of the Goddess. When I wrote this book, I was not attempting to do historical scholarship or archaeology. Writing as a Witch, I felt free to involve my imagination in a reconstruction of the past. In reality, the most ‘objective’ of historians do the same; they’re just not so blatant about it.”

Several years ago, when I felt a push toward a more nature-based spirituality than the Zen practice I was doing at the time, I read some of Starhawk’s work, including the 20th anniversary edition of The Spiral Dance. I knew of her and the book but had not read it before then. After I’d read it, I realized that what she was describing wasn’t for me. Partly it seemed too loose, lacking the structure and focus that I like. It might have been, too, the radical politics. I had some sympathy for her positions but by then my own outlook was slowly changing. I feel fortunate to have encountered you and your work on your other blog around the time you began writing about magic and peak oil. Up until then I thought magic had to do with pulling rabbits out of hats, not knowing there was a long history of occultism and practitioners in the here and now. Over the years, as I slowly learned more about magic and Druidry from your blog and then from joining the AODA, I found that it has the right combination of being based in nature and having the structure and focus that I need in a practice.

Having come into occultism and magic practice at this time, I sense that part of what needs to be saved are the orders themselves and the training that they offer. Since I’m studying for AODA’s Second Degree, I’ve read the historical background in The Druid Grove Handbook, noting how very close the order came to extinction in the 1990s. Now that I’m far enough along in my studies to be learning the philosophy, I understand why it had no appeal to Starhawk, Adler, or others in the Neopagan scene who felt similarly to them, and how that may have contributed to AODA’s struggle to survive as an order. I think that part of the work I and others need to do is to pass on the practices taught to us, to keep them alive long enough so they can be examined and rehabilitated as you suggest.

Bill Pulliam said...

Just my own thoughts on what is and is not neopaganism...

First, neopagans for the most part have just called themselves pagans, not neopagans.

Neopaganism in general encompases religions that emerged in the mid-late 20th Century that are polytheistic or animistic with an explicit focus on being nature-centric and especially eco-centric (meaning viewing humanity and divinity as being intimately intertwined with forces, cycles, and processes of organic nature). Note that this clain of eco-centrism is very often not actually backed up with any real knowledge about or understanding of organic nature or ecology, just as many practicing astrologers know precious little about astronomy and could not point out Mars in the sky on a dare.

Most neopagan systems have at some point claimed to be some form of revival or reconstruction of, or derivation from, an older religion associated with small-scale agrarian or hunter/gatherer societies. In many cases this connection is rather fanciful, but in other cases the religions are at least attempts at "reconstructions" from historical and archaeological sources.

Some things that would be considered neopaganism by most who care to define and use the term would be Wicca, neoshamanism, celtic reconstructionism, norse reconstructionism (including asatru), and, yes, neodruidry (loosely within the broad sphere of celtic reconstructionism). Some things that do not fall within the neopagan sphere include Deep Ecology/Green Resistance (non-theistic), Hinduism (bona fide continuous existence from ancient times, hence not "neo"), Green christianity (monotheistic), Native American tribal religions (again, not "neo"), Western Occultism/Ceremonial Magic/Astrology (not specifically nature-focused).

The large and vague "New Age" Movement is too huge and diverse to clasify as a neopagan movement, as it includes as many people who deny the significance of earthly nature as those who embrace it. Liturgy, structure, symbology, and terminology have bounced around within neopaganism and liberally borrowed from occultism, which can make boundaries uncertain and hard to discern.

In the case of our host here, he is an occultist and archdruid, and has in some of his writings cast traditional western occult theory and practice in nature- and eco-centric frameworks. So what to call him? Best to defer to what he wants to be called.

For the record, I don't label myself any more precisely than just "animist." Which is deliberately broad and nonspecific.

Brother Guthlac said...

“ it's not a religion, though it tends to be more than a hobby”

“the experience of grappling with the question is worth far more than any answer you might happen to come up with...”

Not religion. - Deals with non-material, non-linear realities. “meatless” entities since the groovy vibes in the astral light work better if one acts as if the field is “inhabited”. But not religion.

Certainly not "a" religion if religion is defined as dogmatic belief divorced from experience, coupled with an abusive dysfunctional power structure.

Last month brought comments referencing Episcopalian/Anglican, Russian Orthodox and tongue-speaking Charismatics. Experience can bring recognition.

It has been suggested that religion might just possibly be rooted in actual experience – perhaps even an experience of change of consciousness. It has been suggested that such changes in consciousness might be accomplished in accordance to will – even without the use of psilocybin fungus. Might religious practices of ritual, meditation, prayer, study have been developed as "technologies" of consciousness? Of focus and field? Even if associated with Christians? Yeah, Francis and Clare knew something of what some would call polarity magic, so what?

If magic is a preparation for the philosophical life and philosophy is thus about living rather than speculating, might this discussion proceed toward suggestions for praxis?

Yes, “Mystery Teachings…” is a very good read in the theology of compost. Sincerely and highly recommended.

Patricia Mathews said...

It came to me this noon that the one thing neopaganism generally does not have (specifically exempting the Asatrur), and especially Wicca, is a theology for hard times. "Something to contemplate" that strengthens us against the certain knowledge of the downsides to mortal existence. (Insight courtesy of JGM's BLOOD OF THE EARTH, my current reread.)

And that it is much needed. Because when one ages out of the physical ability to do a lot of the coping, Green Wizardry, etc, what's left? The older religions, among which I do count Asatru, having examined its roots, have answers. The New Agers don't. Neither, as far as I can see, does my own faith, and it's quite a lack.

onething said...

James Jensen,

"What I see as a big threat to the Neopagan community is the common and unprocessed prejudices against the Abrahamic faiths. As honestly-earned as those generally are, you can only cash the "{Other group} is evil! We're the answer!" check so many times before it bounces."

Well, I see both bad and good in the Abrahamic faiths, but as for the bad, it does not come (in me) from belonging to any group. It is simply because I have read some of the scriptures and, for example, just now I am reading a very interesting book about the details and back ground of the Mayflower pilgrims and what led up to their final decision to leave. I happen to find their brand of Calvinistic faith quite abhorrent.

But, what I tend to look for is patterns in human behaviors, such as the one you describe in which your friend was booted off a forum. It is a cause of much sorrow in me to see how common, common, common this is.
And this in a country in which the young are steeped from grade school in the idea that our society was founded upon free speech and civil discourse!

I guess that the reason for such hypocrisy is that when people see wrongs committed, they think that if they create a new (religion/political system/?) with a new name and some new clothing, that the problem is solved.

The real issue is the motivations and level of wisdom and integrity of the individuals who make up any system.

Bill Pulliam said...

Patricia -- Asatru is a reconstructionist religion, not an old one. It is a child of the 20th Century, mostly the late 20th century. In its present form it is younger than Wicca. It benefits more than most other reconstructionist movements in having better historical material to work from, since christiuanity came to Iceland very late by European standards. But there were many many generations and a huge break in cultural continuity that passed between the conversion of the Norse people to the Book of Abraham and the 20th Century revival of the "Old Ways."

onething said...

"One thing I'm wondering is what makes the difference between a movement that declines after 40 years or so and one that picks up momentum and lasts for centuries or even millennia as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism etc have"

That was really my question, also.

John Roth said...

Onething: as far as I'm concerned, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam have (or had) very potent spiritual forces behind them; the typical "40 year wonder" religion is simply riding the crest of the the historical waves JMG refers to in this post. Judaism is a special case, since it's a recreation of a regional polytheistic religion, not particularly different from any other religion in the area, in the time between the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and about two centuries into 2nd Temple Judaism. That's where monotheism came into the religion.

Christianity, in the words of one of its detractors, Celsus, was a religion "fit only for women and slaves." That's where it gained its early foothold.

James M. Jensen II said...


I guess that the reason for such hypocrisy is that when people see wrongs committed, they think that if they create a new (religion/political system/?) with a new name and some new clothing, that the problem is solved.

I think you're right about that. The tendency with modern folks is to want to solve all our problems by breaking free from the past (progress!) and all the bad associations... which only ends with us re-creating almost to the letter all of those bad things because, frankly, we don't actually have better ideas.

Jason said...

So, clarify something for me. What exactly is the difference between the neopagan fascination with "swords, wizards, and faux-medieval settings" and the occult traditions' use of "romantic sources" such as "ancient Egyptian mystery temples, conveniently untraceable Himalayan monasteries, the sages of lost Atlantis, seventeenth-century Rosicrucian mystics, the Knights Templar, the Pythagoreans, the Essenes... even the ancient Druids" for the purpose of "energiz[ing] the imagination and jolt[ing] the mind out of its ordinary ruts" and as "tools for work with the self-image"?

Put another way, what is the fundamental difference between a pointy hat and a constellation-covered robe on the one hand, and a nemyss, white robe, and leafy green tabard on the other? One finds meditations on Merlin and Arthur in books such as The Druidry Handbook, and images such as Vortigern's red and white dragons in books such as The Druid Magic Handbook.

To dismiss the use of paperback-novel images as "a trick with limited applicability" at best, and "wallowing in a romantic mediaeval haze" at worst, comes across to me as being a bit elitist. It's one thing to say that the here-today-gone-tomorrow of pop-spirituality has used sword/wizard/castle/chainmail as yet another temporary plaything before moving on to something new. If, however, a significant number of those "who are still around and still practicing magic as the Neopagan era draws to its close" happen to find "the detritus of fantasy fiction" to actually be a useful aid to them in "the hard work of studying and practicing operative magic", and the "rehabilitation of occult philosophy and its study", then they might resent the suggestion that it's "going to have to be hauled out".

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

' "One thing I'm wondering is what makes the difference between a movement that declines after 40 years or so and one that picks up momentum and lasts for centuries or even millennia as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism etc have"

That was really my question, also.'

I can't better JMG's answer, "An enduring religion is one that manages to grow more in its cycles of expansion than it loses in its cycles of contraction." However, that doesn't tell us how or why the religion pulls it off.

That the religion of the Israelites has survived like great granddad's axe with two replacements of the blade and three of the handle, and that the DNA of the priestly lineage is still distinct from that of the tribe of Israel, are vastly improbable facts. If the survival of Judaism is not attributed to divine favor or blind chance, here is a list of factors that I think deserve some credit. These are mostly structural and organizational; the actual content of the religion is not decisive IMHO. In no particular order:

1. Combination of oral and written teachings. Written teachings are portable and can survive the annihilation of a particular community of adherents or denial of access to a bioregion that the myths and rituals are tied to. Writings also preserve an accumulation of experience and creativity through economic and political changes. Oral teachings are more flexible and allow reinterpretation of the scriptures when the zeitgeist changes.

2. Normative endogamy with provisions for conversion and intermarriage. A religion that you have to be born into is putting all its eggs into one basket, not a good strategy for long term survival. Normative endogamy benefits survival of the religion when it is a minority community in a hostile environment, because the core teachings and values can be passed on at home when children are young and impressionable, along with warnings not to think, act like or marry Them.

3. Daily practices or rituals that are carried out at home and also communal rituals that are performed on a regular basis.

4. At least two distinct groups of religious authorities, one professional and hierarchical (i. e. Temple priesthood), the other amateur and decentralized (rabbinate). Conditions may favor one or the other, and the community will never be totally bereft of teachers.

5. At any given time, it's very beneficial to have at least one good sized community of adherents living under a stable and tolerant government, so that the intellectual and cultural aspects of the religion can develop without being distorted by existential challenges. For the Jews, examples include Babylonia under the Romans, Muslim Spain in the early Middle Ages, the USA in the Twentieth Century.

6. The religion should not identify its interests too closely with any particular economic class.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the reply. I had to read it, and then re-read it and honestly I read it a third time (and maybe even a fourth time). Then I went away and meditated on the meaning of your reply.

And, I'm ashamed to say that for a brief moment I was tempted to think of magic as a form of energy - although where that thought / temptation came from, I'll never really know. It was a bit eerie though.

Your reply is indicative of a very mature philosophy and one that can also understand its own place within the universe without putting the ego before the universe as so many seem to want to do.

Honestly, what started me wondering about that question above was wondering about what happens to entities when we finally disappear as many other species have done before and will also do after we're long gone. Charly's comment over on the other blog got me wondering about different perspectives and how his worldview was such a little mono-culture (using the agricultural definition). It was a little bit perspective changing though for me.

Hi Phil,

No stress, this blog makes my head spin too - so you are in good company!



Justin Patrick Moore said...

Nice shout out to former Cincinnatian John Uri Lloyd. The circle of Freemasons, Theosophists and Spiritualists he was part of was quite remarkable.

Mark Mikituk said...

@Brother Guthlac

Certainly both Jung and Levi would agree with you, and so do I.


Eric S. said...

"I've long since lost track of the number of people I've met -- but it's literally in the hundreds -- who found out about Neopagan polytheism, leapt into one or another of the big organized groups, and withdrew months or years later, depressed and upset because of the mismatch between the promises and the tawdry realities."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not planning on going anywhere, and I personally find nestling my practice of Druidry within the supportive network of a broader community by identifying as a Pagan for the sake of having other people around me who may be on the same path or similar ones, study the same myths, worship the same gods, and experience the world around them through the same basic language. I guess my response to the problems that arise, and the potential challenges that a collapse of the Pagan Umbrella might bring is a sense of obligation to stick around and get to work trying to preserve the best of what we've built and trying to help my grove, and the groves, sanctuaries, and temples of my nearest and dearest to continue to offer something to the people who inhabit them regardless of what happens to the broader global movement.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Besides learning, from JMG and commenters, things in general about magic and the history of the occult I never imagined existed, it is very interesting this week to read JMG's discussion of neopaganism and the comments by past and present practitioners.

I somehow missed that whole scene--never felt drawn to take part, though reading fantasy and familiar with goddess/feminist material. Perhaps it was from living in the midwest. Perhaps it was because my own religious experiences didn't match what neopaganism appeared to offer. I had to have my own private argument with god-in-multiplicity about my experiences of the "is-ness" of the natural world and somehow reconcile that with my christian heritage and training in rational thinking. I was not seeking to be religious or spiritual or conjure up spirits but rather trying to make sense of the fact that these experiences kept happening to me. Quakerism offered good spiritual discipline and some spiritual tools/practices that opened a way to integrating the non-material, mystical side of things with daily life. This helped me learn to stop arguing and instead to simply accept. If I'd known any druids at the time I might have entered in on that path. Changes in consciousness in accordance with will, indeed.

Mark Mikituk said...

@Unknown (Deborah Bender)

Those are very logical anthropo-logical(oops!) arguments, and certainly have a great deal of worth. I would suggest however that you may have avoided a more central argument which I suppose one might call spiritual:

The success of a religion is greatly based on its ability to communicate with our inner resources(God(s)). The higher and more profound that that communication is, the longer it lasts because its value is closer to the eternal and can traverse the ages. Any movement fabricated from bits and pieces to suit a current fad will certainly have some of those aspects, or it would not become a fad, but perhaps not enough for that movement to continue beyond a generation or two.

Religions which have lasted much longer must tap more deeply into the soul and are based upon or borrow from even more ancient traditions. They therefore cannot so easily be backhandedly dismissed for very contemporary reasons.


Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Mark Mikituk writes,"The success of a religion is greatly based on its ability to communicate with our inner resources(God(s)). The higher and more profound that that communication is, the longer it lasts because its value is closer to the eternal and can traverse the ages."

That is well put and I agree. However, a religion's ability to do this may wax and wane, and be stronger in some places, times and communities than in others. The histories of Judaism and Christianity are replete with examples. People who are brought up in a religion often generalize from their personal experience in this respect to an assessment of the religion as a whole. Such an assessment, whether positive or negative, is a form of special pleading.

As a corollary, I agree with Patricia Mathews that a religion with staying power will provide solace and guidance to people in bad times and good.

Dan the Farmer said...

I'm very curious as to the answers to Jason's question. I have not made myself a set of robes. I have my initiation yellow cord, and that's about it so far. I've considered the white hooded robe, but...

My interest in Druidry and Magic is to deepen my understanding of nature, into the realm of the hidden. What would be really useful in my practice is a garment that's quick to put on and adds a layer of full length protection from the weather while doing my daily practice. A thin white robe seems more medieval dress up when applied to me. I think a windproof wrap-around insulated skirt, a good cloak or cape, and a wizard's hat with wide brim plus ear flaps might be of more use. In summer, maybe some special Druid bug netting. It's hard to focus on invoking the air when it's full of mosquitoes and there's no wind.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

Looking at the decline of the number of Americans that identify as Christian and the void that is leaving, I had been thinking that one or multiple religious movements would be likely to take off sometime within the next few decades in America, but your post is making me wonder about another possibility, that political movements will mostly fill that void for now and that by 2060 in America, Christianity and all other theistic religions will all be on the fringes and not given much attention by the mainstream, which will be dominated by political movements and civil religions until the next wave of religious movements comes after that.

I'm still pretty skeptical of religion in general ever being sidelined in America given our history, but looking at the long-term decline of Christianity coupled with decades of less prominence of alternative reigious movements, I'm wondering if that may in fact happen.

John Michael Greer said...

Alexandra, what you've called "eclectic solitary magical esotericist" used to be a common or garden variety occultist, to be found all over the European, American, and Australasian scene. Yes, it's a thing. As for the media redefinition of "witch," remember that Neopaganism invented the idea that the word meas "a person with a particular skill set and/or belief system." Does that phrase describe Baba Yaga? So, in effect, the media is simply reverting to the norm.

Somewhatstunned, if any testiness came through I apologize; that wasn't the intention. I simply wanted to take a step back from your question and put it in what I thought was a useful context.

Ourgreattransition, by all means circulate that among any homeopaths you know who might find it useful!

Phil, since I have no idea what the absence of a universe would be like, I don't think I'm qualified to comment. ;-)

Patricia, can you point me to the Wulfstan reference? I don't recall reading that.

Bill, that's a fascinating possibility, and would not surprise me at all.

Aubrey, I know the feeling! One of the downsides to eras when occultism gets sucked into pop culture is that pop culture gets sucked into occultism as well, and the result, well, just sucks.

Christopher, yes, I'm familiar with Campbell's cultic milieu theory, and it's a fairly good description of the facts on the ground as I've seen them. As for Havelock North, like most people with a Golden Dawn background I'm familiar with the magical dimension, but I hadn't heard about the morris dancing or the medieval clothing -- fascinating.

Ed, I hope you enjoy them!

Tidlösa, there's already been a significant movement of some sectors of Neopagans into the far right -- I've seen a lot of Traditionalist literature being praised and circulated in Celtic Reconstructionist circles, for example. Whether that becomes the wave of the future is a complicated question.

SLClaire, one of the things that makes me hopeful these days is that so many people are starting to see the point in preserving older ways of thinking about, and practicing, magic. A movement that abandons its past is pretty much guaranteed to do without a future as well.

Bill, while I disagreed ferociously with the late Isaac Bonewits on most subjects, I think he had a point when he drew a distinction between Neopaganism as a post-Second World War phenomenon and what he called Mesopaganism, which was the older world of pagan-influenced movements from before that time. I don't call myself a Neopagan because the traditions that work for me either come from before the dividing line, or are deliberately modeled on those older traditions and not on their Neopagan would-be replacements.

Brother Guthlac, magic is not a religion in the same sense that engineering is not a science. You can practice magic from within the worldview of many different religions, just as you can apply engineering principles to the output of many different sciences. Equally, religion, like science, is about what is; magic, like engineering, is about what works.

Patricia, you may be shortchanging your own faith. A longtime friend of mine in Seattle, with a lifelong involvement in witchcraft among other things, died yesterday; I know a number of his friends, many of them witches, and they seem to be finding in their faith adequate resources for dealing with this relatively sudden and very harsh news.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, it's a good question; I don't know that anybody knows the answer.

Jason, a robust retort! If, in fact, any significant number of the people who are still around practicing magic after it stops being popular are still up to their eyeballs in dragons, unicorns, and faux-medieval garb, and have evolved ways to use those things to further the hard work of magical practice rather than, say, as make-believe and dress-up games, then I'll gladly admit my mistake. So far, though, the odds don't look good...

Cherokee, I suspect, for what it's worth, that there have been other intelligent beings on this planet before us -- though they may not have had hands or the equivalent, and thus technology -- and that they will have practiced their own kind of magic. Equally, I think there will likely be many other intelligent species after us, with or without hands or the equivalent, and they'll practice magic of their own as well. One of the commonplaces of classic occult theory is that space and time are full of intelligent beings of various kinds, and all of them practice magic to one degree or another; our contribution, though important to us, isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things!

Justin, to my knowledge, nobody's done a bio of him. It might be worthwhile project for someone with access to Cincinnati resources.

Eric, fair enough. That's also a valid choice, of course.

Adrian, I really do believe that there is at least one valid spiritual path for every person who has ever lived or will ever live!

Dan, I'm pretty sure that the day of the white robe, nemyss, etc. is basically over, and an authentically American Druidry will come up with something relevant to itself, just as Buddhism in China and Japan dropped Indian clothing styles and evolved something relevant to the east Asian climate and environment. Sacred Druidical bug netting seems as good as anything!

Ozark, I don't think it'll be entirely sidelined, but religion may be on a back burner for a while, going through the motions of earlier eras for the most part, while major political changes happen.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG: "I suspect, for what it's worth, that there have been other intelligent beings on this planet before us -- though they may not have had hands or the equivalent, and thus technology -- and that they will have practiced their own kind of magic."

I have long since lost the reference, but I recall some psi experiment where dogs outperformed humans. When you are pure emotion, what need for liturgy or costuming?

About revivals and mesos and neos... one thing I find kind of amusing/ironic about many reconstructionist movements: Had the Abrahamic era not intervened, and had the Norse, Celtic, Roman, etc. people remained polytheistic pagans, after a millenium or two of cultural change the present-day versions of these ancient pagan religions would not look the slightest bit like what most Celtic, Norse, Roman, etc. reconstructionists are practicing today! Think medieval monastery versus modern televangelical megachurch.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

JMG writes, "Ozark, I don't think it'll be entirely sidelined, but religion may be on a back burner for a while, going through the motions of earlier eras for the most part, while major political changes happen."

This makes me think of the passage in Ecclesiastes about a time and season for every thing under heaven. The province of religion is to make connections. The province of politics is to make choices, more of this, less of that. Of course each also contains some of the opposite, like the yin-yang symbol.

When I was in high school, politics seemed exciting and promising, but by the time I graduated from college it had hit a wall. The underlying problem, it seemed to me, was that the methods were confused because the goals weren't good enough, and the goals weren't right because the underlying picture of the world and human beings' place in it was partially false. In retrospect I think that was a correct judgement, and I now have a more specific analysis, which is that the values of the Enlightenment which underpin liberal democracy were developed by discarding as superstition a bunch of other things which it turns out human beings need to be happy, healthy, and at peace with the world. That's a question of values, which are best addressed by religion and philosophy, not politics.

An example of what I'm talking about is Yosemite National Park. One of the oldest national parks, a beautiful place where I have had spiritual experiences hiking in the wilderness. Except it wasn't, as John Muir and others wrote, a pristine wilderness untouched my the hand of Man. The beautiful wildflower meadows in the valley had been actively managed by the native people who lived there; they set small fires from time to time to prevent the succession of lodgepole pine from filling in those meadows. After the legislation passed protecting the land from commercial development, Federal soldiers on horseback drove all those people out of their home so it would be left for scientists to study and people like me to take vacations in.

Over the past four or five decades, Western culture has begun to stop thinking of women as defective men, biologists are taking a systems approach in their research, Jane Goodall has made it respectable to recognize that animals have feelings and emotions, we're starting to get a clue that hunter-gatherers know useful things that city dwellers are ignorant of, and various other imbalances in Western culture are beginning to be addressed. Getting much farther involves decisions about which direction to go, and that entails a power struggle, and that's politics.

Robert Mathiesen said...

There are at least two published studies of John Uri Lloyd:

Corinne Anne (Miller) Simmons, _John Uri Lloyd, his Life and his Works, 1849-1936; with a History of the Lloyd Library_, Cincinnati: privately printed by the author, 1972, iii_337 pp.

Michael A. Flannery, _John Uri Lloyd: The Great American Eclectic_, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998, xviii+234 pp.

I haven't read either, so I can't say whether they're worth our attention here.

Phil Harris said...

Nice one JMG!
"Phil, since I have no idea what the absence of a universe would be like, I don't think I'm qualified to comment. ;-)"

I was thinking (hmmm... ;) )of the one that was there last night or when you last looked.


Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - My copy of Wulfstan is a classroom handout, but refers to two modern translations: Dorothy Whitelock's SERMO LUPI ad ANGLOS, and Dorothy Betherum's THE HOMILIES OF WULFSTAN. I'm afraid my copy is in Old English, which we read and translated in class, or rather the translation was part of our homework.

This link provides, not a full translation, but a translations-with-parts-summarized, which is very annoying.

At any rate, the sins of the English that he recounts includes a good many such things as selling their children into slavery, even to foreigners, and other things people seem to do when times are very hard economically. This was the first quarter of the 11th century, when the Danes were not only trying to invade and conquer, but were really ravaging the land. And King Aethelred was trying to buy them off with the last of his treasure, which worked as well as paying off blackmailers ever did.

I'm sorry I can't help you any further, but I can go through my notes later and see if I ever did a decent full translation.

At any rate, the entire period was the sort of classic one-two punch which, like World Wars I and II, signal the end of, in this case, the Anglo Saxon kingdoms, and that phase of medieval civilization in England.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- this is probably more a question for the ADR, and has likely been covered there in some form several times (hard to remember everything I have read there in the last 9 years...). But, in your model of cycles, does the spiritual movement inform the subsequent political movement?

There are two major communities in this area that generally fit within the neopagan umbrella. My wife and I appear to be just about the only two people who are known to and connected with both of them -- the mainstream Wicca/Asatru/etc. crowd, and the Radical Faeries. The groups are about equally balanced, if you look at the attendance at their gatherings as a guideline. And both seem to be oblivious to the other's existence.

Something I do notice, however... when I come across pagany people who are working in the world along those green-wizardry lines, they are more likely to be Faeries than mainline neopagans. I sometimes even hear Tennessee Faeries being interviewed on national NPR shows on topics that are not directly about queer or pagan culture. This makes sense, as the Faeries have been activist and political from their inception, growing as a rejection of homonormative dogma in the 1980s, and tightly connected with ACT-UP and other groups. But they have also always been explicitly a spiritual movement drawing heavily from mainline neopaganism.

One might also say there is an equivalent of "collapse now, avoid the rush" in the spiritual circles. If you integrate your spirituality and magic deeply in your physical life and values and politics, then it goes forward with you.

latheChuck said...

My only exposure to neopagans was about 25 years ago, when I was introduced to some at a party to which I was invited through my ex-wife's professional contacts. (She was a church organist, and every male church organist that she knew was gay. I was an electrical engineer, and I suppose that the gay demographic within the field was probably less than that of the general population.) Since I got to know gay men who were pagan because they'd been rejected by their Christian communities, does it make sense that as Christian communities have become more accepting of LGBT people, fewer of them would seek alternative faith groups? My Christian/Protestant/Lutheran/ELCA congregation is in the process of proclaiming our welcome to LGBT participants, through a process called "Reconciled in Christ".

That said, I see no sign that neopaganism's decline has reversed our mainstream Protestant decline. Perhaps there's some offset, though.

Bike Trog said...

My writing teacher taught magic. He didn't specifically say magic, but "changing consciousness in accordance with will" could have been the first line of the syllabus. One of his general instructions was don't watch television. My desire to be a better writer was outgunned by free premium cable channels. The magic was effective enough despite TV that I still like some of my old writing now.

Brittle nerve statues
stood to meet the dawn
and shattered into night.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@latheChuck--It makes sense to me. I can cite an analogous set of circumstances.

My mother was active in the Reform Jewish community, but in her day the highest leadership position available to her was President of the Temple Sisterhood. In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of secular Jewish women and some from the liberal denominations of Judaism got involved with Wiccan style witchcraft. Anecdotally I would say that a disproportionate number of them wound up as leaders of covens and other groups. Margot Adler and Starhawk (nee Miriam Simos) are the best known, but there are a good many less celebrated Jewish High Priestesses from that era.

All the American denominations of Judaism except the Orthodox have been ordaining female rabbis for decades now. Female rabbis are less likely to be heads of large congregations than male rabbis, but there are a whole lot of them getting work. That, along with some other developments, has reduced the draw of Wicca for Jewish women. It was never a question of having been rejected or made to feel unwelcome, but of having scope to exercise one's talents.

James M. Jensen II said...

This post has put a major part of my life in context for me. Between that and the many other ways your work has helped me, I can't begin to thank you.

Like a lot of Wiccans, I found my path in my teens. Unlike most, I didn't jump in enthusiastically. It took me approximately twelve years of consideration, hesitation, and resistance.

The reason I mention all this is an experience I had several years ago that ties into this post. It was the first time I got the sense of actually communicating with the God and Goddess. I got a strong, definite impression that the God was telling me he'd guide me on my path on one condition: I had to recognize that this path was mine and not anybody else's.

For some reason, I found that a very hard promise to make, and in the end I didn't make it that night. I recognize now why: I was still thinking of Wicca and neopaganism as The Next Big Thing, the Future of Western Civilization, etc. So of course everyone was supposed to jump on board, my lip service to tolerance and diversity notwithstanding.

It's only been very recently that I've really been able to get started, and it's only because your work helped me break that need to be in whatever is the Leading Edge of Progress(tm). The last few years have been the most miserable in my life: as my faith in progress got undermined, I fell deeper into despair. I now see this as me having to do things the hard way.

Brother Guthlac said...

"Equally, religion, like science, is about what is; magic, like engineering, is about what works."

And it has been suggested more than once as the helix comes around that it is quite impossible for humans to experience or know what actually "is". All we get are "assembled representations". So much for religion.

If this science of consciousness and this engineering of consciousness are each recognized as subsets/subsystems, what might you call the larger system that includes both?

Callum said...


I am working my way through the comments from this month's most intriguing post, but am still back on the 25th, so am jumping ahead to ask you two questions so they are asked before next month! :)

In regards to the AODA, the Candidate year is a minimum single year of study. Is there a maximum time allowed for progression? I imagine as long as we can show regular study it is OK, but dropping the curriculum for a period of years would be less OK? I ask because my wife and I have two children, one at six months, and lack the time to complete our studies in a single year, but two would be much more feasible...

Second, you have mentioned Cell Salts a few times throughout this blog. I have found several articles online that offer decent (read: topical) summaries, but we are hoping you would be able to point us toward a solid piece of literature explaining each of the twelve primary salts in depth. Would you be so kind? My family's health would be indebted.

A likely future AODA Candidate,

PS: If such questions are too off topic from the intended discussion, please let me know.

Der Jim said...

A comment about fantasy fiction and magical practice. I agree with JMG in not confusing the two, but I see how each can support the other. My beliefs are a little bit of everything, but favoring prehistoric Great Goddess worship, Celtic, Christian and Norse figures as the components of my pantheon. Yet I have no history of sitting by a lodge fire and listening to my grandpa telling the clan tales of Odin and the gang-and yet these figures call to me. Tolkien and his like, and even, to a more twisted extent however, Marvel comics have helped fill in that blank for me. Gandalf is more than anything an odinic character, and even the comics have helped make the thought of Thor just a bit more real (even though he is misrepresented), so that I could put some work and energy into those archetypes without feeling too ridiculous--too fictional.

Christophe said...

John Michael, your tracing of the waves of the cycle of spiritual and political fervors, as usual, refocuses my thinking onto more important questions than the formerly entertaining distraction of what the flavor du jour happens to be. Your tying in "the great fantasy fiction boom of the 1970's" to the stylization of Neopaganism leaves me longing for you also to trace the cycle of which idealized fantasy ages have managed to capture the zeitgeist.

It seems that faux-medievalism was reactionary to the Jetsons/Jules Verne futurism that preceded it, but before that things get more blurry for me. The Romantics idealized all things faux-Gothic just as their predecessors idealized all things faux-Greek. In the Age of Reason many longed for a fantasy world of Cartesian simplicity; the Shakers longed for a world of celibate simplicity; and the Puritans longed for a world of impossible purity; but I am not sure when they were longing for.

Another question your post kindled is whether the projection of the idealized age into the future or the past reflects the hopes or disillusionments of a longer cycle such as industrialism or American empire. The faux-medievalism of the SCA and D&D seem to reflect disillusionment with the promises of progress and escape from its dull monotony. These topics might be closer to the topic of your other blog. If you have already written about them, please let me know where.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, true enough. Interestingly, Gordon Cooper, who helped found Celtic Reconstructionism and then was written out of the movement's history when he tried to keep it from going fundamentalist, originally saw the point of the project as a matter of trying to imagine what Celtic Pagan religion would have become had it survived intact to the present. My guess? Based on other examples of religious survival, I think it would have looked remarkably like the Druid Revival... ;-)

Unknown Deborah, that makes a good deal of sense.

Robert, many thanks! I'll see if I can scare either of those up.

Phil, since it was promptly replaced by another, I didn't get a chance to see into the gap. ;-)

Patricia, thank you -- that's ample for me to track down the issues in question.

Bill, it really varies from one movement to another, even within any one cycle. Political movements can also inform later spiritual movements -- look at the way the radical movements of the Sixties informed so much of Neopaganism.

LatheChuck, it makes ample sense. I know several people who would have been Christian clergy if the churches hadn't thrown them out for being gay, and who are Pagan clergy instead. In each case, the Christians lost out big time.

Trog, when you're lying on your deathbed, will one of the last thoughts to pass through your mind be "Gosh, I wish I'd spent more time watching cable TV"? No, I didn't think so.

James, I'm sorry to hear that this has been a miserable time for you! As I think you're realizing, there really is life after progress, and in a lot of ways, it's better -- we have cookies, and they're made using old-fashioned recipes. ;-)

Brother Guthlac, good question. Since the differences are significant enough that it's necessary to shift mental gears pretty comprehensively when going from magical practice to religious practice or vice versa, I don't worry about trying to label some hypothetical set containing both.

Callum, there is no maximum time, and you don't have to prove to anyone that you're making satisfactory progress, or any kind of progress at all: when you're ready, you take the examination, and that's all. As for cell salts, I know of no worthwhile online resources; the best book I know of is The Twelve Tissue Remedies of Schussler by William Boericke and W.A. Dewey, which is still available used or from an Indian publisher.

John Michael Greer said...

Der Jim, well, if it works for you, then so be it.

Christophe, I haven't written about that at any length, no, and it would be a major project! I'll consider it as time and circumstances permit, though.

James M. Jensen II said...


I'm afraid I'll have to pass on those cookies.

Part of what made this so hard for me is my type 1 diabetes. I used to assume that eventually a cure would come around — because, progress, right? — and I'd get to live at least something like a normal life. Unfortunately, like the Singularity and fusion power, a cure is perpetually 20 years away. So instead I've had to reconcile myself to the possibility that I could find myself cut off from a steady supply of insulin sometime in the not-so-distant future.

Since my decision to finally take my spiritual needs seriously, its been easier to see this as simply the way things are. I'll live until I die, like was always going to be the case, anyway. How long that is matters less than what I have to live for in the mean time. And hopefully I can make better choices in the next go round, if there is indeed one. (I think there is; Chris Carter makes a good case for an afterlife and reincarnation in Science and the Afterlife Experience.)

Another part is that my loss of faith in progress was a loss of a faith I had consciously accepted as a substitute for the faith I lost when I left Mormonism when I was 20. I still remember reading the article where I first encountered the idea that the history of the world was one of moral progress. That was a message that resonated with me and helped me see some of the struggles I was going through in a wider context in which, though it could take some time, Good was going to win. (The message of the version of Christianity I was raised with was that, with the sole exception of the LDS church and its members, the world was basically going to pot and that was slated to continue until Jesus came down to do some reigning.)

Having to give up that faith was actually more traumatic than giving up my original faith. By that point I'd already drifted away doctrinally from Mormonism (I was a big fan of Carl Jung) and was at least somewhat familiar with some other compelling alternatives (liberal Christianity, Taoism, Wicca, etc.), which made things easier. My parents had actually left earlier and so were supportive.

Working my way through to an alternative to moral progress that wasn't a reversion to the old narrative of moral apocalypse — and with family and friends who basically all still believe in one of those narratives — has been a lot harder.

Tidlösa said...

A question for the blog host.

You wrote that according to occult philosophy, humans are relatively unimportant in the bigger scheme of things, since the cosmos is inhabited by a host of other intelligences, etc.

However, my impression of much occult philosophy ("Hermetism") is that it´s anthropocentric, claiming that humans are a microcosmos reflecting the macrocosmos, that the primordial being was a kind of Ur-Human (Adam Kadmon, Purusha, Ymer in Nordic mythology, etc). Also, Ficino and Pico, if I understand them correctly, placed humans in the center of a (God-created or God-emanated) universe. Sometimes, I get the impression that Hermetism is even more anthropocentric than Christianity!

Is your occult philosophy different, or have I misunderstood something? Is Hermetism just a small part of a bigger whole, in which humans have less importance?

James M. Jensen II said...


I can only speak to the occult philosophy that I was taught, but I was taught that everything is a microcosm. "Everything is a reflection of everything else," as Lon Milo DuQuette puts it in The Chicken Qabalah. The focus on humanity as the microcosm is that we're the only things we can investigate "from the inside," so to speak, and thus we can appreciate ourselves as microcosm more fully than we can appreciate rocks and birds and what-have-you.

However, one thing to consider is that much of occult philosophy we have to today has its roots in the medieval and renaissance view of the world. C.S. Lewis's The Discarded Image is a good guide to that view. One of the points that is often misunderstood is that medievals took idea that Earth and humanity are at the center of the cosmos to mean that we are actually just about the least important things in it. We fall to the bottom rather than rising to the spheres of the celestial bodies, and we are subject to time and fortune where the planets and stars are immortal.

Callum said...


Great to hear regarding AODA! And thank you for the recommendation, it will find its way onto our bookshelf before Yule.

In regards to Sex & Occultism Part III -

I had a severe crick in my neck last night that had been bothering me throughout the day, and thought it may be worth trying a, "digestive elimination method," however, considering it was a physical malady, I had only a faint glimmer of hope for affect. I put about sixty seconds of willpower into the maneuver, following the algorithm you laid out in your post, and then urinated.

My neck stopped hurting immediately.
(Let me repeat that...)
My neck stopped hurting immediately. And didn't start back. That was about ten hours ago...

I accepted the experience immediately, but am still a bit in shock. (I have chronic neck pain).

Anyway, I wanted to make that anecdote available to the other minds perusing these comments, it was pretty phenomenal. And to thank you!

My very best to all,

Patricia Mathews said...

re human exceptionalism, it occurred to me just now that Hamlet's phrase "What a piece of work is Man!" can be taken two ways by modern idiom.

Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for the very clear and also highly interesting reply. Again it is a very mature philosophy and I totally agree with it. We're an interesting species for sure, but there'll be other interesting species after us as well (as I’m certain that there were before us).

You know what though? I'm surrounded by birds, animals, insects - seriously there are all sorts of life down here and it is a constant joy and also a bit of a headache. They all pursue their own agenda's without the slightest concern for my preferences. It is very humbling really - even the dogs accept my agenda with their own unique and unexpected modifications.

What is really interesting to me is that some of the birds here are very long lived (some as long as an average human lifespan) and they all call out to each other in greetings, warnings or territory disputes and they learn – constantly. I use some of those alert bird calls to let me know that there is something to take notice of. In fact every animal here learns - it is built into them. So I suspect that magic is a part of their existences too.

As a funny (but still relevant) story years ago when the boss dog was a very intelligent and quite large dachshund crossed with a corgi (of a breed known as a dorgi). She walked into the room and spotted one of the other dogs enjoying a perquisite that she herself had her eye on. So she sounded an alert bark and the other dog jumped off and went to investigate whilst the boss dog slid on in and took up that perquisite herself. And that sort of thing goes on all the time. I have no doubts that other species could use magic and in fact it is probably more part of their lives than ours.

The whole tool thing with humans is good, but we never really had to learn the hard realities of when a single tool is a good thing to use and when fifty of them is a really bad idea to use because we possibly evolved without access to fifty tools! Fossil fuels made all of that possible and it is both a blessing and a curse. The dominant cultural meme which dominates our society just never quite got around to having to understanding the benefits of limits – however, humans can actually learn the benefits of limits because plenty of humans and societies have learned it over history. Perhaps it is the mark of intelligence to learn by your mistakes? Dunno.

PS: Mate, I feel for your circumstances with your friend.

PPS: Sorry for the rubbish grammar on the previous post which I’ve now deleted – I didn’t get a chance to re-read it prior to posting…



Patricia Mathews said...

Similar to Callum's experience -- in two parts.

I had been having all sorts of odd muscular cramps, aches, and twists in my arthritic left leg, treated by my massage therapist, who is also a practicing magician, in vain. Last week I asked him to add magic, including all the trimmings that fit the situation. For once he worked in silence and treated my back and shoulders, especially shoulders, which had been as rigid as if made of stone. It worked. Running it by my best friend, she said that something had to be done to break up the pattern, and good for him.

Then I started getting hard cramps and stiffness across my lower back, horizontally, and very clearly muscular. I used to have that a lot, and odd episodes of it going way back. Clearly the current pattern had been broken up and a much older one uncovered, which I call good.

On the 3rd day of having a bad back, in meditation, I was Told to do a chakra check, beginning with my feet. I was sucking up Earth energy, which is a change from my usual discharge of the unwanted into the Earth. And could not bring it up past the 6th chakra; it stayed resolutely below the waist.

Then I realized/sensed/saw/remembered the components of that energy, and that they were a lot more - earthy - than what is usually visualized in such exercises. They included a large component of every bodily excretion known to woman, all those things hidden/perfumed/sanitized away - and memories gong back well over 60 years. And I as a witch embraced it and the girl who had it and a few memories of running on a hillside in a dirty dress for a week while on vacation, to the dismay of my family like a little Bear of Artemis ...

And the connection between back and shoulders was shown to me on an Xray - kyphosis leads to pinched spinal nerves etc - and the psychological/magical meaning of a lifelong stopping and hunching was fairly obvious to me that night.

My sleep that night was good, and the backache nearly gone all day, though the stiffness (we're in a spell of rainy weather) remaining. The left leg still has its problems, but not the ones that leave me all twisted around.

I expect good things from my appointment with him Monday. I'll tell him that the treatment "brought up some stuff".

I think you on this blog may be the only people who I can tell this to besides my journal! And not be grossed out.

Pat (The Grey Badger).

John Michael Greer said...

James, gotcha. The religion of progress really is a lightly secularized version of Christianity, and meets most of the same emotional needs; letting the whole thing go and dealing with a universe where you're not by definition on the winning side is a lot harder, no question. With regard to reincarnation, I haven't read Chris Carter, and will put him on the get-to list; have you read any of Dr. Ian Stevenson's remarkable collections of reincarnation cases? They're pretty compelling.

Tidlösa, Ficino and Pico were very anthropocentric, but they were living in the heyday of Renaissance Humanism, when anthropocentrism was pretty much de rigueur. Renaissance Hermeticism shared that bias, which is to some extent implicit in most orthodox forms of Christianity -- I'd find Christianity more convincing if God, as well as becoming man, also became tree, earthworm, wombat, granite outcrop, etc.

Go back into the Pagan Neoplatonism that underlies the older traditions of Western magic and you're in a very different world, one in which humans are just one of many varieties of intelligent living beings, and far from the most important. One of the great achievements of 19th century occultism was the journey back to that non-anthropocentric sense of the cosmos -- in Theosophy and the various occult teachings that derived from it, for example, human beings are just one more life-wave flowing into and out of this particular stage of existence, with plenty of others ahead of us, behind us, and alongside us. I'll be discussing this more as we proceed.

Callum, glad to hear it. There's an acronym much used in some of the occult circles where I've spent time: TSW. It stands for "This S*** Works." And it does...

Cherokee, I really hope our species gets over the notion that the world ought to do what we tell it to do. As you say, even your dogs give your agendas a sidelong glance and then do what they want, and the birds, deer, etc. just snicker and go about their business.

Pat, have you considered putting some of that tension into the excretion of your choice and letting it drop?

James M. Jensen II said...


In my case "most" was the operative word. I was never entirely satisfied with the idea that life was about constant improvement. For one thing, I realized that eventually we'd have to reach perfection — or as close to perfection as possible — and then what?

I'm familiar with Dr. Stevenson second-hand, but I've never read his accounts for myself; I'll add that to my own list. I remember the outrage when Sam Harris dared to suggest that skeptics should familiarize themselves with Stevenson's work before dismissing it. (After all, creationists do the same thing to evolution.)

I think you'll like Science and the Afterlife Experience but I will say that I doubt you'll like the previous book in the series, Science and the Near Death Experience. Part of his argument for taking NDEs seriously is that they display a consistent set of features across different cultures, but he reaches pretty far to make some of his examples fit the mold. (It's a little bit like what Joseph Campbell does to squash every myth into the monomyth.)

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - Indeed, I should. Brain not usually up to speed at that hour, but yes. I'll keep it in mind. Thanks.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I'll venture to expand on JMG's answer to Tidlosa's question from my own POV.

The currently accepted versions of physics and astronomy say that all matter and energy in the world have a single origin. Current biology states that all life forms on this planet (the only life forms currently accessible for scientific study) have a common origin, as well as being made of the same materials as the stars. All this backs up a common religious and mystical belief that everything is connected.

A corollary of the maxim that everything is connected is a little harder for the rational mind to grasp, but it happens to be one of the easier mystical insights to attain (or at least that has been my experience). This insight is that just as the whole contains the parts, each part contains the whole. In modern parlance, the universe is a hologram.

It follows that a human being is a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm, but the same can be said of a beetle, a feather, a tree, or a pinch of dust. The pattern of the entire universe and its history is present in every part, though perhaps not in an obvious way. Another writer, it might have been Ken Wilbur whom JMG may not be a fan of, calls this the "implicate order" of the universe.

I interpret William Blake's line "to see the world in a grain of sand, and eternity in a flower," as an expression of this idea. The Biblical statement that God marks every sparrow may also be interpreted in this light.

A blessed Samhain to all who desire it.

Patricia Mathews said...

@JMG - Done. We shall see.

Christopher Kildare said...

Dear Mr. Greer:

Thank you for responding. Apologies for my delayed response. I’m sorry to hear that a longtime friend of yours passed away, my condolences.

1) If you are interested, Dr. Robert S. Ellwood describes in a chapter from his book Islands of the Dawn: The Story of Alternative Spirituality in New Zealand (1993) the rationale for the people of Havelock North experimenting with both medievalism and esotericism. You should be able to find this academic tome in either university libraries or Theosophical bookstores. The Wikipedia article on the Havelock Work is a condensed version of the book chapter.

2) “I'd find Christianity more convincing if God, as well as becoming man, also became tree, earthworm, wombat, granite outcrop, etc.” Franciscan priest Fr. Richard Rohr states just that:
Don’t worry, I’m not proselytizing , just sharing another perspective.

3) Going back to your examples of dual Christian with Pagan/Hermetic practices, I recently heard about the late Alexei Kondratiev (1949-2010) who while initiated in a Protean/Gardnerian coven and involved in early Celtic Reconstructionism never renounced his Christianity; his coven was often invited for Eastern Orthodox Easter.

Happy Samhain (Northern Hemisphere)/Beltane (Southern Hemisphere), and happy All Hallow’s Eve.

“Christopher Kildare”

John Roth said...

If you're looking into reincarnation, Michael Newton has a series of between-life hypnotic regression histories. They're ... interesting.

Cherokee Organics said...


I'd like to see a wombat God too! Awesome.



Tidlösa said...

Interesting responses! In a sense, it´s strange that Christ didn´t become one with nature, as well. In some strange way, he did incarnate in the Church after the resurrection, since the Church is the "mystical body of Christ". He is also present in the bread and the wine - two products of nature. (I´m merely referencing Catholic theology, not agreeing with it!) Further, if all of nature fell due to Adam´s transgression, and all of nature is redeemed in Christ, doesn´t this mean that Christ in some sense *is* immanent/incarnate in nature?

The Fransiscans may indeed have *some* inkling of this. A Fransiscan nun named Ilia Delio has written several books inspired by Teilhard about Christ and evolution. I haven´t read them, though. She has also written a book about the medieval theologian (and Fransiscan) Bonaventure, who argued that God´s incarnation in Jesus was primarily "ontological".

Perhaps Christianity in some strands is on to something, but the strict monotheistic perspective whereby God is transcendent may be holding it back...

Phil Harris said...

JMG & Dan the Farmer
I like the notion of a Druid dressed in bug netting. We do need some separation from Nature! Runs to more than clothes, witness ditto Cherokee's account of struggles with those very smart survivalists i.e. his local rat colony.

And this guy who has had a sometimes mystic insight into time past and time future had a struggle recently with the Scottish midge even when plastered with repellent. A splendid achievement though, and he brought home a rainbow. Coille Ruigh indeed!

I am trying to conjure up an image of an all-weather Druid and it looks pretty mediaeval to me - sort of cunning arrangement of sackcloth of different calibres. I knew as a child an old man arranged in correct layers kept reasonably dry in most weathers while out rabbiting.

And some ladies in this part of the world worked all weathers - see photos - but it wasn't always sackcloth, given a determined female impulse or two (see ‘history’:-'costume').


Phil Harris said...

@ Patricia M
Thanks for the insight on Wulfstan and life become mired in transgressions - and analogy with the modern double punch WWI & WWII in Europe. (I would include I think the opening shots of the Atomic Age both physical and psychic explosions.) Dorothy Betherum's book is obtainable in UK at modest price, by the way.

Your studies presumably extended to the Normans and their relationship with the Church; the latter organised again by then on a continent-wide basis?

I live close to remains of the northern Anglian Kingdoms and their Christian monuments including the structures that emerged from Celtic Christianity missionary teaching from Ireland with its links to late-stage Roman imperial religion and thought.

PS Perhaps the scariest book I have not finished reading is Verardi's "Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India".

Sven Eriksen said...

Quote JMG: "The religion of progress really is a lightly secularized version of Christianity, and meets most of the same emotional needs." Is that why universities/colleges etc. basically feel like religious institutions with an extra coating of denial smeared on top of everything?

Callum said...


My wife gave me a surprising Samhain gift yesterday evening. It is something we joked about a few weeks back, and well, I feel obligated to get your approval on it.

Picture 1

Picture 2

I do hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! Is this something you would rather not have out there? It is in no way intended to be produced and sold. I wanted to post the picture on, I believe they would get a kick out of it (I have been a member since its inception).

Please let me know:

In the best humor possible,

John Michael Greer said...

James, yes, I've seen way too much of that sort of Procrustean scholarship! One of the things I find most interesting about NDEs is precisely the diversity they display, not to mention the fact that this doesn't correlate closely with cultural or religious assumptions -- e.g., devout Christians get NDEs that reference reincarnation, New Agers occasionally get NDEs that involve evil spirits and hell, etc. The afterlife is apparently far from simple.

Patricia, glad to hear it. May the work prosper!

Christopher, many thanks for the references! I'll certainly check 'em out.

John, for a variety of reasons I distrust anything obtained by hypnosis. I find spontaneous recollection more reliable, and more useful. Yes, I should probably do a post on this one of these days.

Cherokee, a wombat god would indeed be worth invoking. I presume offerings of tasty vegetables would be appropriate!

Tidlösa, I think it was Rudolf Steiner whose version of Christian theology has it that Christ descended not into hell but into the earth, and will reappear in the earth's etheric body at the second coming. I suppose that could be developed into the kind of theology I have in mind.

Phil, I'm glad we don't have midges. The local mosquitoes are bad enough.

Sven, exactly -- and of course it's not accidental that universities in the western world started out as religious foundations.

Callum, that's hilarious. By all means get it into circulation.

onething said...

JMG said, "I'd find Christianity more convincing if God, as well as becoming man, also became tree, earthworm, wombat, granite outcrop, etc."

Well there is the Gospel of Thomas. (It really should have been included in the canon as many of the sayings are obviously coming from the same source as events in the other gospels.)

77) Jesus said, "It is I who am the light which is above them
all. It is I who am the All. From Me did the All come forth, and
unto Me did the All extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am
there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there."

James Jensen,

"I remember the outrage when Sam Harris dared to suggest that skeptics should familiarize themselves with Stevenson's work before dismissing it. (After all, creationists do the same thing to evolution.)"

I am trying to parse this sentence and I cannot. Are you saying that creationists do or do not familiarize themselves before dismissing evolution?

Deborah Bender,

"Another writer, it might have been Ken Wilbur whom JMG may not be a fan of, calls this the "implicate order" of the universe."

It was physicist David Bohm. Hard not to be a fan!

onething said...

I would also like to know why you don't trust anything obtained by hypnosis. Certainly, the opportunity for abuse is there. Newton claims to have been very careful not to lead his subjects. Perhaps that is not easy to do, though.

Swimmer said...

This is a partly off topic comment to James M. Jensen II and JMG:s "gotcha" regarding one of James comments

James, I think that you might agree with me that it's unwise to fully believe in what the leaders of the religion of progress has to say about any human illness, including type-1 diabetes. Moreover you will probably also agree with me that treatments for human bodies are not invented in the same way as high-tech.

As far I know there is at least one small corner of the society, where some type-1 diabetics go against the advice from the mainstream medical establishment, and are able to minimize their need for insulin (while, in many cases, the doctors almost try to put such non-believers in jail). Obviously, magic will probably help them to be very good at what they need to be good at, which is: 1) to be brave and able to ignore the mass-manipulation spells that come from leaders of the religion of progress 2) to be able to perform very strict daily rituals, and know the mind and body very well, especially when it comes to food cravings and body reactions 3) to secure a sustainable way of nourishing a human body with minimum amounts of such food that need in-body insulin-production. A link that might be of great interest for you, James, is

Bill Pulliam said...

Feeling grumpy tonight...

I think there is a lot being made here of distinctions that would seem rather insignificant to people more removed from these interdenominational squabbles, and to society as a whole.

So some reconstructionist movements can trace to before WWII while others began after it.. ummm, OK? We are decades and generations removed from both of these time frames now. You, JMG, can recast traditional western magical ideas in the framework of late 20th/early 21st century ecology and environmentalism and this is hunky dory, but Starhawk recast them in the framework of late 20th century feminism and that was a corruption? 19th / early 20th century magicians were neither feminists nor environmentalists as those ideas are conceived today, and I don't get the profound distinction there. Everyone is informed and shaped by the social movements of their culture and time. Starhawkian Wicca may not have the lineage she claimed for it, but hardly any magician does. This is one of the great traditions itself: claiming an overstated and overblown lineage. One can actually trace Starhawk - Gardner - Crowley - and back pretty clearly, that may be a somewhat shady pedigree but it is not an insubstantial one! The first (and only) time I said anything disparaging about Gardner out loud my chair instantly collapsed out from underneath me, so I am not gonna doubt his magical heritage or legacy for a second.

For the record I have studied both wicca and orthodox ceremonial magic, I have witnessed both call down the thunder and shake the mountaintops, and watched both fizzle like wet firecrackers, depending on whose hands they were in. As I have moved on in my life, I now practice neither per se but have certainly been informed by both, and by many other threads.

Sven Eriksen said...

That makes sense to me, John.

I have to admit my initial response to this upon reading the headline was "Wait what, we're done?" After reading it through, it was more "Ah, finally... (groan of relief)... Now we can get on with the real work..." I believe I've commented earlier about the challenge of being young and fumbling your way through the occult scene when it seems like magic, spirituality and real occult philosophy have all gone missing in action, and been replaced with just more of the things you thought you were consciously rejecting about ordinary society, dressed up in mythological drag. Glad you could put that in perspective.

I'll go practice now...

John Roth said...


The Gospel of Thomas begins with "These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus..." That's a red flag for it being a gnostic text, although a lot of scholars are wondering if that's really true. In any case, it may belong to the branch of early Christianity that revered Didimus Judas Thomas, reputedly Jesus' twin brother, which would have been enough for the proto-orthodox to have rejected it. And yes, it does look like it's descended from the lost sayings gospel "Q".

re: hypnosis

Most of what I know of hypnosis comes from the NLP text: Tranceformations. IIRC, it starts off with John Grinder and Richard Bandler sitting on bar stools while one of them says: "there is no such thing as an altered state," and the other says: "everything is an altered state." So I may have a somewhat different take on it from classical hypnotists. NLP training back in the 80s went rather heavily into how not to lead you clients, and how to detect if it was happening.

I'd also like to know why JMG doesn't like it.

James M. Jensen II said...


I was saying that creationists frequently don't familiarize themselves with the details of the theory of evolution before dismissing it. Certainly I don't mean that all creationists do that (there are some intelligent, well-educated creationists), but I've run across plenty of people whose dismissal is based on a caricature of the theory received second-hand from Ken Ham, etc. I find that comparable to skeptics who dismiss reincarnation based on misinformation from James Randi, etc.

Mind you, I'm not lumping intelligent design theorists in with creationists here — I consider them a separate movement from the scriptural literalists I'm calling creationists. Granted that there are creationists who wear the ID mask to try to hide their real intentions, in my experience many ID theorists actually have educated themselves on the issues and generally only reject the notion that random mutations in DNA are sufficient to have caused the diversity and success of life. (Where I think they go wrong is that random mutations of DNA and design are not the only options on the table.)

Brother Guthlac said...

"That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance;
"That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end;
"That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof – be that spirit ‘God’ or ‘law’ – is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world."

Work is really done; Energy flows and produces effects - if psychological effects don't have to do with consciousness, where are they? -

Is this not magical/occult?

James M. Jensen II said...

Bill Pulliam,

That's an interesting point. I'd never really thought about Starhawk's work in those terms — though I don't think I've ever thought of it as a corruption, either. My main complaint with her is that she put several ideas into circulation (like there being millions of witches killed during the Burning Times) that have made the Wiccan and neopagan communities as a whole look ridiculous to other occultists. Still, that's also a grand tradition going back a ways...

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, the Gospel of Thomas is a fave of mine. Pity only a tiny minority of Christians pay attention to it! As for hypnosis, I'll consider a post on it. The short form is that hypnosis is so unreliable as a way of regaining factual information about things that can be checked that US courts generally will not accept evidence extracted that way, and for very good reason. It doesn't require leading questions; people under hypnosis routinely "recall" imagery from movies, TV, dreams, and free association as though it had actually happened to them. My book on the UFO phenomenon cites studies to that effect, if you're interested.

Bill, when you're feeling less grumpy, you might go back through my post and notice that nowhere did I claim that Neopaganism is less valid than the older stuff. It's different, is all -- and it's just completed a pop-culture boom of a sort familiar to students of US cultural history, which caused it to absorb certain other pop culture themes, such as unicorns, dragons, and faux-medieval decor. For that matter, I also know Neopagan mages who are very, very good, and initiates of older traditions who can't magic their way out of a wet paper bag, as well as the reverse of that; I've simply noticed a lot of *very* inept magic in the Neopagan scene over the last decade or so, rather more than in, say, Hermetic circles. As I noted, though, that's a side effect of absorbing too much pop culture, not a flaw in the traditions themselves.

Sven, bingo. It's those who keep practicing when the party's over and the crowds go off to the next big thing who are the ones that matter, you know.

Brother G., I bet you could find at least one quote in Das Kapital which, taken out of context, would redefine Marxism as magic, too.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@James M Jensen II--The origin of the figure of nine million witches put to death during the centuries of active persecution has been traced by somebody to Matilda Joslyn Gage, a prominent American feminist and campaigner for women's suffrage in the nineteenth century. I think I heard it tossed around in women's spirituality circles before 1979. At the time I thought someone was just trying to out-victim the Jews. I still think that, but the number itself predates the Final Solution.

Aubrey Romero said...

Archdruid, I have been noticing a trend among popular culture over the last few months, and I curious of your take. There have been movies coming out like The Last Witch Hunter. Basically anyone involved in magic is evil and they must be hunted down. Way different slant than Harry Potter. If the previous cycle is ending, is it possible we could find ourselves in a society where it isn't advisable to be out in the open about our practices? There are others things that seem to follow the same curve like homeschooling. I homeschool my own children, but the landscape is definitely changing. Unless you are a fundamentalist Christian, you don't get support from the wider community and surprise, surprise get label as a witch. Currently, in court here, a case is being discussed that could end up improving and clarifying laws or build more protections for religious (ie. Christians) exemptions. Texas could end up being ground zero for witch hunts for those that label themselves or just don't toe the party line.
Forgive me if this did not come out totally clear. Headache is giving me brain fog.

nwlorax said...

John Michael et al:

I wanted to point out that "sex,drugs, and rock and roll" as a package has only one component not found in popular literature (and esoteric pursuits) in the Victorian era. Exhibit #1 is "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". Chemistry of an exotic sort revealing a very different persona hidden inside a respectable member of society. Most of Russia and the Indo-Chinese area have populations with a long tradition of loving their mushrooms for many reasons. The British mycophobia seems to be an exception.

Spiritualists and Spirit and Pentecostal churches and Free Methodists had revivals c. 1820-current that can shame the best Berkeley Love-Ins of 1968 for intensity, music and intentionally altering consciousness to some teacher's Will.

Freud realized that tinkering with neurochemistry was probably the preferred route to go for treatment of personality disorders. (C. 1890, I read the paper long ago in Anthro. classes.) The H.B. of L. used some sort of powder in an envelope for their initiates. Has anyone tested the envelopes that are extant for interesting substances? If not, there's a good Ph.D. thesis in chemistry/history/something around the corner for someone that has access to even minimal lab testing.

Moshe Feldenkrais developed a theory around somaticized traumatic experiences, mainly by teaching Judo and developing Special Forces killing techniques. C. 1947 he started teaching methods for un-winding some of the physical and emotional impacts of traumatic experience. Of course this was largely forgotten until its evil twin "Rolf Therapy" came along. This sort of medicine goes back to Galen, and probably can be found in Babylonian and Egyptian texts. Music and dance were certainly understood as therapeutic by the Hebrews and Canaanites. See Saul/David for details. :-)

mallow said...

The other blog got me thinking about finding your purpose but I think this fits better here if its ok. If one way is to pay attention to what delights you and what has usually worked out well for you, is that a bit like the two side rays of the Tree of Life? Like Byth is about recognizing patterns, about memory, the past, fate - so in this case things that worked out well before, And Byw is the side of motivation, what you love, what motivates you, what you imagine. So it's like Plato or someone said about where the needs of the world and your talents meet. And I suppose the middle pillar would be harmony between the two where you can focus on your purpose.

But the bit of the middle pillar between Byth and Byw is either up to Muner or down to Ner. I read that your Higher Self (in Muner as I understand it) can kind of 'tell you' your purpose, but if someone is pretty far away from having that little chat... can you get an idea about it from Ner? Something about images and myths and archetypes that could give you a clue? Or is that going to be all smoke and mirrors if you see it from 'below'?

I like to write, but I wonder if that's just because everyone thinks being an author would be great, and when it gets hard I wonder if that's because it's not what I'm supposed to be doing and so I'm never going to be very good at it so I shouldn't waste my time trying. People (who're not related to me;-)tell me they like what I write and want to know what happens next, but I can't know if they're just being polite or not (Irish people can be polite to a fault). Also it feels a bit trivial writing fiction compared to the scale of all the horrible things in the world that I'd like to fix. And my stories veer away from being about current problems anyway. It just feels very detached from the real world that's falling apart around us right on schedule.

I kind of know it's not trivial since we all think through stories all the time, even non-fiction, newspapers tell a story whether deliberately or not. I suppose it's being raised in an Enlightenment belief system, that reason, fact, information are what you use to create change.

And, this may sound crazy, but could sort of refusing to create, to channel inspiration into words on a page, be a rebellion against god, the gods, the impersonal ground of being, what I see as a totally uncaring, amoral bunch of creators all the way further up the tree. If the source of creativity is the same source that sets the 'rules' that we're here to grow in character through suffering, then I kind of hate that source so I don't really want to cooperate with it, or contribute to the world it's creating (to the extent I can avoid that).

I guess it's daft to judge a greater power that is amoral by human moral standards -like calling a lion evil for killing things. But I wouldn't want anything to do with an amoral human and if that human had more power than me I'd try to stay as far away from them as possible so why should I treat gods any differently?

If I was in a relationship with someone who believed that making me suffer would make me a better person and that the ends justified the means I'd realize, hopefully, that that was an abusive relationship and get out of it. It's possible that they would be right, that the justification is just beyond my understanding, but if they were also at least partly responsible for creating me, knowing that I would have such limited understanding then that really doesn't let them off the hook. Human morality, or my values, are all I've got to judge by.

I seem to be a misotheist at the moment, a new word I just discovered, but I'm hoping it's a temporary phase. And that I don't get struck by a bolt of lightning shortly for it...

John Michael Greer said...

Aubrey, that kind of thing ebbs and flows constantly in pop culture. In the Seventies, fantasy fiction made magic cool; in the Eighties, you had the Skeptic movement and the fundamentalists (odd, how often those two work in harness together) hammering on it, and so on. It wouldn't surprise me at all, now that Harry Potter is a has-been, we get serious pushback from the same sources.

Nwlorax, for that matter, if I recall correctly, Pythagoras considered music and dance very healthful, and important elements of a properly philosophical lifestyle. I like to imagine him playing riffs on an electric lyre... ;-)

Mallow, one of the disadvantages of growing up in a Christian society is that you end up having to contend with the really bizarre mainstream-Christian notion of deity -- the one Jung psychoanalyzed so trenchantly in Answer to Job, the emotionally insecure cosmic tyrant who insists he loves you but will give you the boot in the face forever if you don't do exactly what he wants. That image inevitably becomes a template onto which people project bad experiences with their parents and other authority figures, and misotheism is a common response. I'm less sure how you're getting from there to rejecting your own creative powers -- which are yours, btw, welling up from the core of your being, not handed you by the Big Nobodaddy in the Sky -- but that's another matter, of course.

mallow said...

Ah, that makes a lot of sense thank you. I'll read that book. I wonder if believing in that kind of deity then also tends to make people who grow up in mainstream Christian, Jewish and Muslim societies act a bit like that deity when they're in a position of authority and so it becomes a kind of positive feedback loop. I'm amazed how difficult it really is to extract myself from the two religions I grew up with - Christianity and progress. As progress fails and more and more people face into this process I hope most of them manage it better, and faster, than me. I hate to imagine what the world will look like if they don't.

John Michael Greer said...

Mallow, glad it was helpful! Two things I've always appreciated about the old polytheist faiths are (a) the gods and goddesses didn't create the world, and (b) they're not omnipotent, omniscient, or omni-anything else. Given the presuppositions of the mainstream monotheist faiths, the problem of evil -- "If a perfect god created the universe and everything in it, why does life suck so often?" -- is unanswerable, but from a trad polytheist standpoint it's not a problem at all. Like the rest of us, Lugh, Brigid, the Dagda, et al. are making the best of the cosmos they inherited, but there's only so much they can do -- not least because the Fomoire are always out there pushing things the other way.

(More generally, I've never been able to buy into the notion that the universe we inhabit, with all its awkwardly jerry-rigged features, could have been manufactured out of nothing by one infinitely wise, powerful, and perfect being. A committee of pagan gods and goddesses, none of whom are almighty or omniscient and not all of whom like working together? That's another matter...)

Tori Minard said...

Mallow said: I like to write, but I wonder if that's just because everyone thinks being an author would be great, and when it gets hard I wonder if that's because it's not what I'm supposed to be doing and so I'm never going to be very good at it so I shouldn't waste my time trying.
Mallow, writing is a very complex set of skills. It sounds like you're talking about fiction, and in my experience, fiction is harder to write than non-fiction. It's hard work to acquire those skills, and to hone them to a professional level. It usually takes many years and thousands upon thousands of words written. So don't give up.
When it gets hard, just tell yourself it's part of the process. There will sometimes be struggle, especially in the beginning. Even when you've written twenty or more books, there will be times you'll feel stuck or you'll think this story isn't working. You have to push through those feelings, because they come from the part of the mind that wants to protect you from looking foolish.
In fact, a professional writer whose blog I follow often talks about how he begins to doubt the story about a third of the way through. It happens almost every time he writes. I experience it about half way through, on almost every book. It used to stop me until I realized it was really just fear talking.
If you enjoy writing and love stories, keep going. Keep writing. The world always needs stories, retold for the current generation.

Cherokee Organics said...


For some reason wombats and wallabies seem to have a particular fondness for French Sorrel and that would make a worthy addition to any altar celebrating the local spirits.



ed boyle said...

John, I got the ecology magic book you reccomended, am almost finished and am working through one of the magic books. I will first read through the practice of rituals, etc. to get a feel for how advanced I am in my own system of learning and to compare. European middle ages as heavily dependent on qabbalah is interesting. Being Irish and hearing druidry I had yearning for celtic language and lore, not semitic languages, christianity being a near east invention after all. My hindu rites using sanskrit and tamil siddha concepts I had a desire to get back to my roots. Of course understanding magical ritual helps me see its basic similarity to indian, tibetan, sufi, etc which I have worked on, meditations, symbols, rituals all serving personal transformation.

Seven laws are quite good and puts it all in context. Why people in pop religion think material wealth is available by positive thinking is beyond me. I was always searching for simple truth and happiness, always having been quite a serious loner, asocial, friendless. Normal people seemm to want stuff. Desperate people need normalcy and will acheive true superhuman transformation internally just to get peace of mind. I think we plan this over many previous lives. An easy path is a waste of time. As ramana mahrshi replied to yogananda when asked why people have to suffer, "suffering is the path(to god/enlightennment)".

It reminds me oof the hermetic roots of the philosoper's stone. Actually this was not the point to make some super weapon.. That was the excuse so others would leave you alone in your quest. If the king thought you had an off chance of turning lead into gold or making an eternal life elixer you would not be burnt at the stake. The real transformation, onion like, through dozens of processes, was not the stone but the scientist, who purified his soul thrrough ritual.

I don't find your wriiting exciting, but then thrillers are not made in meadows. It al seems more like textbbook material. I should read your best scifi. Basically I am hard to please, casting aside anything as being useless, irrelevant, etc. I need shiva or jesus in shining glory standing before me before I throw off all cynicism and bow down in worship and awe. My onion peeling has lots of layers and so many tears to get through...

dadaharm said...


There are two ways to influence, change or improve society. You can try to change (the mind of) the individuals or you can try to change the structure or organisation of society. The first describes a spiritual movement and the second a political movement.

Political movements usually see spirituality as opium for the people. Spiritual movements seem to consider politics to be banal. The evils of society are seen as a consequence of incorrect thinking. So the choice between better individuals or a better society appears to be mutually exclusive. Of course having a focus implies ignoring something.

Movements that are both spiritual and political seem indeed to be non-existent. The only way I see that a combination can occur is when a spiritual movement prescribes behaviour that conflicts with society at large. Then their behaviour can be interpretated as being somewhat political. Though it is of course somewhat dubious.

An example would be the beginning of the christianity in the Roman empire. They somehow managed to really annoy the Roman elites. So in an implicit way christianity was somewhat political. Another example could be the beginning of islam. They where maybe somewhat more explicitly political.

These two examples were very successful movements. They radically transformed society. An example of a failed spiritual movement with a political side might be that of the cathars in medieval France. They of course lived in a time when the catholic church was a powerful political institution. So any spiritual statement was almost automatically also a political statement. So it is even more dubious to say that the cathars had also a political side.

These examples are all spiritual movements that were rather extreme. They really wanted to change society or at least the individuals in it. For them spirituality more than just a statement of fashion.

Maybe it is finally time for a less one-sided and less focused movement. A movement that is aware of the fact that human individuals and the organisational structure of society have co-evolved together. That would result into a more integral approach to influencing and changing society (and the individuals in it). Such a movement probably would surprise (and maybe even shock) everybody. It should be interesting to see what such a unlikely movement that combines spiritualty with politics would look like.

onething said...

James Jensen II,

"Mind you, I'm not lumping intelligent design theorists in with creationists here — I consider them a separate movement from the scriptural literalists I'm calling my experience many ID theorists actually have educated themselves on the issues and generally only reject the notion that random mutations in DNA are sufficient to have caused the diversity and success of life. (Where I think they go wrong is that random mutations of DNA and design are not the only options on the table.)"

How refreshing and what a relief. I've spent considerable time familiarizing myself with the arguments re evolution and intelligent design and it is so boring when people dismiss this fascinating topic as just creationism. I wonder what other options you refer to? Because I am trying in my own mind to envision a plausible scenario. To me, the line of demarcation is exactly the one of mind, purpose and will versus randomness. And I think the question goes to the heart of what sort of universe this is. What is divinity and what does it spawn? Jeremy Narby's Cosmic Serpent suggests that DNA itself may be an intelligent entity that evolves itself with some intention. In a world full of gods, that might be quite plausible. Although I call myself a monotheist, it seems unlikely that life forms were designed by fiat and also I find my vague intuitions about the nature of God incompatible with such a notion. Even if things were designed, the tasks would be delegated.

onething said...

JMG (and John Roth)

The gospel of Thomas may very well be a Gnostic text,although I wouldn't call it a red flag! I identify strongly with Gnosticism. But of course, the church would have rejected it for that reason. And yet it is intriguing that it obviously has sources that go back as early as any other gospel, and include many of the same events. There are a few very cryptic sayings, and I feel that I understand them! At least, they make sense to me.

onething said...


Your post was so evocative and I struggle also with my own questions. It comes through clearly that, yes, you are angry about this bizarre situation we find ourselves in. I too have a spiritual block, that I don't know how to solve.

I remember when my son was killed, one of his west coast friends drove out to the east to attend his memorial, and he said to me something about us having a lot to forgive God for. I found this a startling idea, but why not?
If ever there is a spiritual healer, surely it is the Sufi divine poet Hafiz:

I know you have a hundred complex cases
Against God in court,
But never mind, wayfarer,
Let's just get out of this mess.

I know of beauty that no one has ever known. But how could that be possible when I may seem so new in infinite time? It is because God belongs to only you! Did you hear that? Did you hear what Hafiz just said? ... That is the only reasonable payment for a single tear.

My music will circle this earth for hundreds of years,
and fall like resplendent debris,
Holy seed, onto a fertile woman

What I have learned
I am so eager to share:
Every ill will confess
It was just a lie.

God has seen your heart in prayer,
and sent Hafiz.
Why not use my verse as a golden camel bell
That you can turn upside down and fill with wine?
Even from the distance of a millennium
I can lean the flame in my heart
Into your life.
This pain you have comes of ideas of God that are slander and I fancy myself God's defender! There is an impostor that is called God but why believe it?

All the reports are that we come here voluntarily. There is no force. I think it is true that we learn by being immersed in these lives. And if we didn't believe it was true we wouldn't take it seriously. When I think about it, I can't see a better way to become a truly wise and reliable being than learning through immersion. It may be an eastern idea, but I have long thought that in Genesis, when it is said that we will fall into the knowledge of good and evil, this is exactly the same thing. It is interpreted negatively, but that's a shallow interpretation. It is a path, a divine, holy, heroic path.

We see that people, when left to their own devices do rotten things to one another and to the world because of selfish and uncompassionate impulses. That is who they are; that is their nature. Toddlers in a sandbox. But souls learn and change. Perhaps we are the dunces here on this earth, but that is not some gods' or God's fault. It's not just about learning love and compassion. It is also realizing our awesome responsibility.

Don't worry about being struck by lightning. Those Fomoire! You see, I believe it is their function to put obstacles in our way. This is a very thorough course!

James M. Jensen II said...


The main candidate, to my mind, for a third option between design and random mutations of DNA is morphic resonance, the hypothesis advanced by biologist Rupert Sheldrake. I'm not sure I can do the theory justice in summarizing it, so I'll just link to a description on Sheldrake's website:

Sheldrake has amassed quite a bit of evidence in favor of the hypothesis. Some of it is on his website, and I heartily recommend his book, Morphic Resonance or A New Science of Life (depending on whether you get the US or UK edition).

If Sheldrake is right, then there is more genetic information in organisms than what's present just in DNA, and morphic fields don't follow the same rules as DNA. Now, it may be that this still isn't enough to explain genetic diversity and success without design, I've yet to see an ID theorist tackle morphic resonance head-on. Understandable, since it's still widely considered a crank theory, but I take it seriously.

That said, I think it unlikely that we've not been tampered with at all by gods/spirits; heck, I suspect we've been tampering with ourselves over the last several hundred millennia, making each successive incarnation just a little bit more suited to hosting our souls.

James M. Jensen II said...


Thanks for the link. Interesting stuff.

onething said...

James Jensen,

I'll look at your link soon. I like Sheldrake, and I seem to recall looking at that book, but don't remember why I didn't get it. Some of the farther out ID people are thinking about a frontloading scenario (which was a design but had sufficient inputs for life to then evolve) or some kind of endogenous intelligence (intelligence within), which the cosmic serpent would also be a form of. And yes, it is true that major things are not in the DNA, such as the body plan itself!

Dwig said...

John Michael: "I'd find Christianity more convincing if God, as well as becoming man, also became tree, earthworm, wombat, granite outcrop, etc."

This resonated with me. For some time, it's seemed to me that I'm developing a spiritual affection for Gaia, more or less as Lovelock (appropriate name) described her. (I'd say "relationship", but the word has some implications that I don't feel; I have no expectations of reciprocity.) Maybe the Christian God can't or won't become all those things, but Gaia is certainly to be found in them, and a host of others (pun intended).

"... in Theosophy and the various occult teachings that derived from it, for example, human beings are just one more life-wave flowing into and out of this particular stage of existence, with plenty of others ahead of us, behind us, and alongside us. I'll be discussing this more as we proceed." I look forward to it eagerly. I wonder, in particular, if some of them are given to the same kinds of destructive folly that has caused our kind so much trouble. Or if, on the other hand, some of them have the wisdom, capability and willingness to give us a gentle nudge now and then to help us gradually outgrow our folly. In any case, I welcome the company. I suspect that we work better as one voice in a chorus, than as a soloist.

ed boyle said...

John, now I have the celtic golden dawn book as well and see that you change to welsh terminology. I would feel more comfortable with that. I ued to joke to myself that I could use 'coca-cola' as a mantra and it would work as well.

I have sometimes ideas I write down. Yesterday I wrote that since religions believe god is love and often the beloved is loved as passionately as a god or goddess so that one enters the breathless state of samadhi or nirvana where time stops, only the two exist, as in eternity, in heaven, sort of a black hole situation. This situation intensifies over time as the energies grow and are purified, presumably like the growing samadhi states ending in golden body, immortality. The body can be drawn like a magnet with concentric circles going around outermost chakras(2 above body, 2 below, 7 within and feet and hands) . I read that the lowest chakra under feet, grounding in earth, opens at same time as highest chakra above head, revealing past lives.Religious devotees who strive only to upper chakras, rejecting lower ones as angry, sexually sinful can therefore never attain highest levels as energy has to be balanced across whole system. This would jibe with some of what you have said but be a technical/electromechanical explanation which eliminates all need for belief systems in god, etc. allowing any species, without regard to intellect to acheive highest state through love/sexuality and effectively with pure devotion, see twin flames web sites, reach godhead, immortality, what have you.

onething said...

James Jensen,

I read your link, but found morphic resonance too vague, and then found an article and subsequent discussion of it with someone named Horgan. In that discussion, Sheldrake said a couple of things which, to my mind, indicate a missing step. For example:
"What this means is that all self-organizing systems, such as molecules, crystals, cells, plants, animals and animal societies, have a collective memory on which each individual draws and to which it contributes."

"I was interested in the concept of morphogenetic, or form-shaping, fields, but realized they could not be inherited through genes. They had to be inherited in some other way."

My objection is that the idea of self organization is being way over-used and depended upon to explain things which is it not capable of explaining, that here being that he assumes that the cells have organized themselves into existence, when that is actually the hardest step of all. A cell and a crystal are utterly unlike one another in the type of information they contain.

As to the second quote, there are actually certain formations of a cell in division that are a kind of template copy, nongenetic, so he is right about that, although he is talking about something more subtle here.

What I very much agree with in his thinking process is the idea that these things, including psi, are not supernatural but physical. It is my belief that there is no such thing as supernatural. If by supernatural, you mean a mind somewhere has used its intelligence to alter and influence an outcome, then so be it. But that is no more supernatural than a beaver building a dam. I am not sure why there should be such resistance to the idea that consciousness should have a role to play in the evolution of life, since life could be almost defined as that which houses a consciousness.

Another aspect to the above is the idea (whose time has come!)that we can go ahead and expand our idea of what the physical may consist of.

But the question is how does such complex information arise, not just how it is passed down. Sheldrake does seem to have at least a handle on some aspects of that. The experiments with rats of subsequent and unrelated generations being able to solve a maze faster and faster is his example of passing information through time and space. What puzzles me about extrapolating that to the information needed to create a cell and then to come up with totally new life forms runs into the problem of saltation, a no-no for dogmatic evolution theory, but which has lots of evidence. (It also is in accord, I think, with self-organization theories.) Life seems to show up in a series of break-throughs. I am not sure if morphic resonance can accomplish it.

Well, JMG, I hope you will not delete this as its rare I talk with someone I can communicate about this and I do think this is a spiritual topic. Perhaps the reason it is so emotional for people is that the crux of it really is about consciousness and how real consciousness is. If consciousness is real in the sense of being fundamental and enduring, it will have a role to play in evolution, methinks.
Also, this blog gets slow anyway after a bit, but I would not want to interfere, either. So, I/we could stop or take it offline.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

ed boyle, you wrote, "Yesterday I wrote that since religions believe god is love. . ."

Not all religions. What polytheist religion which would say that? Which god are you thinking of?

The statement seems to be taken as axiomatic by many Christians, but I'm not sure how prevalent it is in Christianity historically.

I've had the rudiments of a Jewish education, though I'm no rabbi. Judaism is full of statements about God expressing love and acting out of love and having lovingkindness as an attribute. Simply equating God with love strikes me as not being normative Jewish theology, in part because it's reductive and therefore fails to recognize the majesty and ultimate unknowability of the godhead. This idea is not typical of Jewish mysticism to the extent I've read that, either.

The people I've run across who are the most certain that God is love are New Agers. You could stretch a point and say that Wiccan theology boils down to God is love, but it isn't generally put that way.

I'm not addressing the rest of your post because I wouldn't know enough to comment.

onething said...


Probably the "God is Love" belief comes from the gospel of John, where it is so stated. It probably is historically prevalent in Christianity. I'm not sure how Islam or Judaism would weigh in, but I suspect they would not make a statement so restrictive. On the other hand, the Law of One series of channeled information (of which I ignore almost all) says that love is the first distortion. And by this they mean the first division from utter unity, The One. Perhaps the rabbis would select light as the first distortion? It seems I've read some mystical, cabbalistic rabbinical quotes that made quite a lot of fuss over God vis a vis light. In that regard, two of the most pure and inspired sayings from the New Testament are "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning," and "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."

A piece of wisdom from Islam that is nicely gender balanced is that God's perfect beauty is his passive perfection and his perfect majesty is his active perfection.

"so that one enters the breathless state of samadhi or nirvana where time stops, only the two exist, as in eternity,"

Sounds Sufic to me. Here's Hafiz:

The closer
I get to you, Beloved,
The more I can see
It is just You and I all alone
In this world.

"Religious devotees who strive only to upper chakras, rejecting lower ones as angry, sexually sinful can therefore never attain highest levels as energy has to be balanced across whole system. This would jibe with some of what you have said but be a technical/electromechanical explanation which eliminates all need for belief systems in god, etc. allowing any species, without regard to intellect to achieve highest state through love/sexuality and effectively with pure devotion, see twin flames web sites, reach godhead, immortality, what have you."

I think there is little need for particular belief systems. Those are probably just the result of repetitions after some mystic has attempted to put into words their direct experience. This would tie back into last month's post about the difference between thinking about versus experiencing. As for mechanical explanations of spiritual experiences, I personally think that is where it's at. The etheric energies moving through a body system open channels/chakras in the brain and spine, for example. At this point, one's perceptions and interpretations would necessarily be very different than before, and this is similar to difference in perception on the ground or up at the top of a hill.

I'm not sure what you're saying at the end - that any animal can be enlightened if all the chakras are open and this could occur through sexuality? Twin flame web sites...a typo there?

onething said...

Scotlyn and JMG,

I read through the end of last month's commentary, and wanted to say that I liked the Bose quote very much, and have you'se guys heard of The Secret Life of Plants? A mind blower from the 70s, it has a lot of Bose in it.

John Roth said...

Unknown (Deborah Bender)

Interesting point about "God is love." I've usually explained it by saying that mystics sometimes get to a place where there is a limitless outpouring of love, but I have no evidence on the distribution of this between Christian mystics and mystics of other traditions. Makes me wonder if there's an element of self-fulling prophecy here, or if it's a foundation piece of the original Christianity that other traditions indeed noticed but didn't think was as important.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, if I ever have to invoke the Wombat God, I'll certainly keep that in mind!

Ed, the books of mine that you've read ought to read like textbooks -- they are textbooks. Some of them are deliberately made a little difficult, so that those who are just looking for entertainment go somewhere else.

Dadaharm, the problem is that when you mix politics and spirituality, what inevitably happens is that the spirituality goes away and you end up with an unusually dysfunctional form of politics capering around in spirituality's cast-off clothing. Maybe a movement of the sort you've sketched out could avoid that, but history doesn't make me hopeful.

Onething, the Gospel of Thomas was certainly of interest to the folks who originally collected the Nag Hammadi library, so it probably counts as Gnostic by that standard!

Dwig, I'll certainly address that as we proceed!

Ed, one of the ways that Druids talk about this is that there are religions that seen perfection, and religions that seek wholeness. The quest for perfection always seems to involve discarding parts of yourself that you don't like, and ends in various kinds of self-mutilation, which seems counterproductive to us. The quest for wholeness, on the other hand, requires coming to terms with every aspect of the self, including the imperfect, grubby, smelly parts -- which is awkward, and can be slow, but we tend to think it leads someplace better than lopping off aspects of yourself because you think you'll be more perfect without them.

Onething, nah, I don't mind at all. This blog, being a once-a-month affair with a much smaller readership, can afford to be a little more laid back about off-topic discussions. As for "The Secret Life of Plants," I have indeed -- that and the sequel, "Secrets of the Soil," were faves of mine back in the day.

latheChuck said...

Re: The Secret Life of Plants ... I was intrigued by it, as a high school student. For one thing, my parents had a very small commercial greenhouse, so I was immersed in plant life during late winter, spring, and early summer. In one chapter, Tompkins and Bird describe hooking plants up to instruments to sense their subtle reactions. As luck would have it, there was an idle electrocardiograph machine tucked away in a school storage room, so I was allowed to take it home and connect it to a variety of plants. T&B report a plant that showed a dramatic reaction when one of the experimenters first THOUGHT of a plan to "stimulate" it with a burning match. "OK", I told my partner in science, "We have matches, plants, and an instrument. Now, how do we reproduce the mental state of INVENTING a dramatic stimulus? We already know about the Match Experiment, and if there's anything to this experiment in the book, the plant also knows that we know, so we've already lost the element of surprise."

Oddly enough, just the thought-experiment of "how do you surprise a telepath?" has led to some useful thinking.

So, we tried the experiment anyway, and we did indeed find a response from the instrument when we waved a lit match close to our subject plant. But we got the same result without the match. And we got the same result, more or less, without the plant, because what we were really detecting was ambient electromagnetic fields, with our bodies as antennas. And understanding THIS phenomenon has also been very useful to me.

TSLoP also reported on plants mysteriously sharing scarce water, if one was well watered and the other not, and I KNEW that was nonsense. I'd killed a few plants before my very eyes by carelessly watering hundreds of geraniums. And then there was the medieval demonstration of "transmutation", where the dry mass of a plant and its soil was seen to more than double. How could mere water and air become solid? T&B might have been mystified, but even I knew that the plant was converting carbon dioxide and water into solid carbohydrate. (At least, that's what I've been taught. Plain old chemistry presents a vast array of invisible characters and forces, and those who mastered it in college were sometimes referred to as the "chem-gods". There really is a leap of faith from the world I perceive to the periodic table of the elements.)

TSLoP was a fine immunization against pseudo-science.

onething said...


" It should be interesting to see what such a unlikely movement that combines spiritualty with politics would look like."

The Pilgrims that settled New England were exactly such a movement. Although we have been taught is was for religious freedom, the entire enterprise was deeply steeped in politics as well.

dadaharm said...


Maybe. I see the pilgrim fathers as fleeing persecution in England solely for religious reasons. Once they arrived in America they had to organise themselves politically. So they got their political aspect by necessity. Of course, their politics was based on their religious ideas.

So I see this as another example based on a one way causal relation. Religious ideas about what an individual is (or should be) are primary. Everything else follows from it.

What I would like to see is a movement not based on a simple causal relation between individual and society, but one that is based on the awareness that the individual and society influence each other both ways and have always done so. Individual and society have co-evolved through time. Changing one means changing the other. But I do not believe that you can predict how changing one (whether individual or society) changes the other. There are in my opinion always unintended consequences.

mallow said...

Thanks JMG, Tori and onething. The story is moving along again now, I might even finish it some day!

Onething, I'm so sorry for your loss. I can't even imagine how parents cope with the loss of a child. Even Hafiz couldn't make sense of it for me I'm afraid but I hope you find your solution. I can't make peace with the learning lessons through suffering business. If we're dunces, and we were created, then we were created that way surely. And if the power that created us, or started a process through which we're created, isn't omnipotent or omniscient, and so didn't know that we would be flawed etc., then it really has no business creating sentient life in the first place does it? A baby suffering abuse and violence surely has nothing to learn and can learn nothing of value through its suffering.

I read about those old Irish gods and the idea of powerful but limited gods and goddesses, who didn't create this world themselves, but work against some old fashioned bad guys, is something I can get along with. I'll happily sign up as a foot soldier with one of the good ones for that.

Speaking of fighting, JMG, and the Paris attacks, most people I know would be pretty hard-core open borders activists. I've never agreed with that but it wasn't a huge issue before. I wouldn't argue with any of them about it, I know it's pointless, but I'm puzzled by their outlook on it. They take an admirable refusal to stereotype and extend it to a complete refusal to exercise judgment at all or to address probabilities and likelihood - such as the probability that some terrorists will walk through if you open your borders.

They will only discuss the political motivations of such attackers, never the religious ones. And if I were to say that Muslim men raised in the Middle East and North Africa seem to me to be vastly more likely than non-Muslim men raised in western Europe to have entitled and misogynist attitudes to women and that therefore I would really prefer to live in a separate country from them, well that conversation would go badly!! The real world experiences of women who've experienced the street harassment in Europe from such men, the studies that back up that many, if not most, of that demographic do hold such beliefs to some extent, it all counts for nothing. The answer is usually that not all Muslim men from those societies do that/believe that (which of course is true) and that non-Muslims do it too (which is of course also true) and they can all be 'educated' out of it. What is that about do you think? Or am I actually being prejudiced and unjust by saying such things? Was there any parallel for this among the Roman elite?

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

There seems to be some conflation of Pilgrims and Puritans in this discussion. The Puritans may not have had a completely worked out political program, but many English Puritans fought against the King in the English Civil War.

Robert Mathiesen said...

Most folk ignorantly conflate the Pilgrims and the Puritans, and both of them with all colonial New Englanders. The reality is far more complicated.

The first settlers, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, weren't Puritans at all, but Separatists -- a much less dogmatic sort of Protestant with a rather different church organization. The Separatists were generally condemned as heretics (Brownists, Familists) by the more intolerant Puritan theologians. Their political program, if their leaders ever had one, is now unclear for lack of much documentation. Among other ineteresting details of their church organization, layfolk were also authorized to speak up in church, and there is some reason to think that even women layfolk did so on occasion. (This practice was called "prophesying" in Plymouth Colony.)

The Puritans had three colonies: Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Haven (not originally a part of Connecticut). The Puritan leadership definitely had a political program as well as a theological one, and it is fairly well documented. It meant to create an independent polity in New England in fact, if not in theory.

The "Northern Fringe" area that later principally became New Hampshire and Maine was yet a third region, settled largely by people interested more in economic advancement than in theology or politics. The so-called North Shore of Massachusetts, at least in the townships that (like Salem) were settled before 16390 (when the Puritans arrived), largely belongs to this area as well. This area seems to be where the Swedenborgian movement flourished most vigorously in the early 1800s. Here, too, the Shakers found their most comfortable homes.

The southeast corner of Connecticut used to be a separate colony, too, and it was laregly run as the private domain of John Winthrop, Jr, who also served many years as the governor of Connecticut. This was a very tolerant area, and it was home to a number of the earliest New-England alchemists of which we have any knowledge. (John Wunthrop, Jr, was himself one of these alchemists.)

And finally, there was the area that eventually became Rhode Island, but was originally several different settlements. This region elevated complete religious tolerance to a fundamental principle of their several polities, and Roger Williams was the most famous (but not the only) prominent spokesman for this policy. Williams had formerly been a minister in Plymouth Colony and in Salem, which goes some way toward accounting for his anti-Puritan views. One of the early settlements in Rhode Island (the town now called Warwick) was in fact settled by Gortonites, or followers of Samuel Gorton, one of the most vocal and prominent critics of the Puritan theology and polity, cast out by Massachusetts Bay as a dangerous heretic.

So the religious history of old New England far more complicated than most people realize now.

John Michael Greer said...

LatheChuck, I'm far from comfortable with any rigid dichotomy between science and pseudoscience. There are unquestionably things in The Secret Life of Plants that can't be reliably replicated, but then the same is true of a great deal of contemporary mainstream science -- in both cases, ideology too often gets in the way of accurate experimental observation! I should probably do a post about this one of these days.

Mallow, you're not being prejudiced or unjust, and yes, Roman aristocrats quite readily opened the borders to Visigoths et al. -- in fact, for a while it was fashionable for rich Roman kids to dress up in barbarian clothes and emulate the manners of the people who were, in the not too distant future, going to cut their throats. It's very comfortable for your liberal friends to claim the moral high ground, chatter about open borders, and pursue policies that are intended to drive the working class into hopeless poverty while keeping prices down for the well-to-do, which is what open borders amount to in practice. In the long run, one of two things will happen; either the working classes will throw their support to a despot who will close the borders (which is basically what happened in the eastern end of the empire) or your country will go under, and be replaced by a society run by the new arrivals (which is basically what happened in the west).

mallow said...

It's too late for a third way for Europe isn't it? I'd like to believe that it's not but the thing is done and it's just a matter of the consequences playing out now. Between that and what is starting to look like the failure of the Gulf Stream within the next few decades I can't escape the conclusion that the whole continent as we've known it is lost. A strategy of adapting in place may not make sense here anymore.
But then many of us can't leave for various reasons.

And where to go anyway? I'd be nervous facing climate change on that scale in Australia with all that desert, or New Zealand being so small and isolated without air travel. And it would be very difficult to move south or north from either of them if you needed to in future I suspect. Canada would suffer similarly to Europe if that climate shift happened. The US presumably faces the same two possible outcomes at this stage in terms of migration and drug gangs. But it is a nice big continent for internal migration north and south as climates shift. And if I had to choose between drug gangs and Islamist fanatics I'd take the former. But the US is almost impossible to legally emigrate to these days.

Within Europe it would be very hard to stay out of the way of a group which takes such an insane interest in controlling people's personal lives, so finding some isolated geographical spot within Europe may not work this time. Apart even from the climate threat... And adopting voluntary poverty like the monasteries is unlikely to save anyone either since gaining wealth seems to be only a secondary motivation of our barbarians, although that may be changing already as it expands beyond a core pool of zealots. We seem to be suffering from a serious lack of lifeboats here and hardly anyone has even noticed that we might need them yet!!

Brother Guthlac said...

Some 5 years ago it was observed on the ArchDruid Report that the author of Mein Kampf was a quiet competent thaumaturge. As was the fellow who helped pry the Indian jewel from the British Crown. The changes in Russia and China nominally rooted in Das Kapital significantly impacted the mass consciousness of many people in accordance with somebody's will. Was somebody working magic? I couldn't say. Perhaps magic is in the mind of the beholder.


onething said...

Dadaharm and Robert,

The pilgrims did leave largely for religious reasons, although the somewhat later sets began to realize that there were economic incentives as well. But all the characters, including their forebears, families and and financial backers as well as the politics and economics of England and France and Holland were deeply intertwined in the decades that led up to it.

I do see the pilgrims and puritans as the same...weren't they both Calvinists?


I see the inexperienced soul as somewhat similar to a baby, but with lifetimes of learning. Babies cannot even control their own hands for 5 months. I see the universe having recurrent patterns, and suppose the lifetimes of reincarnation would work similarly to a human lifetime, so far as learning.
How would you envision that it "ought" to work? What would it mean to be created in such a way that bad impulses never arrive? How could such a state be compared to what I would call wisdom? From what I can glean, between lives we live in a rather heavenly state in which there is plenty of loving guidance and a soul family who communicate telepathically, but as the saying goes, in a time of real crisis you see what a person is made of. I see these lifetimes as a voluntary mission of the soul to see what they are made of without the constant support system and total lack of anything to fear. I haven't been able to think of another way. It might be that some souls get all they need just from watching, but perhaps we are not them. Or perhaps we aspire to become something truly great -- a reliable soul.

My son's death didn't change my beliefs or make me angry with God or even his killers all that much as they were desperate, ignorant addicts and criminal types. It has just made me feel very dismayed. He was a great and loving soul whose very presence was uplifting to people. He was a spiritual companion to me.

Thus, while I am fairly happy most of the time, I don't seem to occupy the higher realms as I did. I'm not sure how to make use of this and I am spinning my wheels. That is, in the years before it happened, I was often experiencing spiritual insights and joy. I guess it is what the new agers call spiritual growth. I was highly motivated in a Sufic way as a lover of God. That seems to be on hold.

It is interesting that you think of emigrating to America while some here wonder where they should go. I'm finding the world situation overwhelming right now, so I have no advice. I would consider South America if I were younger, but I have put down deep roots here and need to be here for my children and grandchildren.

As to the liberal idealists, perhaps it is a kind of projection, i.e., they simply assume that other people function internally exactly as they do themselves, and may be in for a painful awakening. Isn't there something about being wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove? This is a lack of wisdom.
The general craziness of people never ceases to amaze me.

Robert Mathiesen said...

onething asks whether the Pilgrims and the Puritans weren't both Calvinists. The short answer is, No, the Pilgrims weren't. Like nearly all English Protestants, many of them shared some views with Calvin, in a cherry-picking sort of way. But they were far more radical and antinomian than the Calvinists. Myself, I see influence from the "heretical" group known as the Family of Love at work among the Pilgrims, and also from the another such "heretical" group that was called "Brownists" by their Protestant opponents. There was also a connection with Hermetic thought through some members of Elder William Brewster's extended family.

One of my own ancestors among the Pilgrims, Robert Cushman, left a number of published writings, and one of them ("The Cry of a Stone") is a piece of rather eccentric radical Protestant theology. (The Pilgrims' own minister, John Robinson, wrote that Cushman was a good man for business, but otherwise a difficult and "singular" [= eccentric] member of his congregation.) It was Cushman, along with John Carver, who did the delicate leg-work needed to persuade some English money-men to finance the Mayflower's voyage, and also the Fortune's a year later. About the same time he secured a "patent" to settle the land at Cape Ann as another, related colony; but that did not work out, and Cape Ann was absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony after Cushman's death.

Another of my ancestors, Cushman's friend, Isaac Allerton, was far, far more moved by economics than by theology. He was one of the major thorns-in-the-side to Oilgrim and Puritan alike. It was Allerton who brought Thomas Morton -- he of the famous maypole at Merrymount -- back to New England *twice* after Morton had been exiled by the leadership of Plymouth Colony.

One of Allerton's daughters married Cushman's only child that survived into adulthood. Another daughter married into the Maverick family of Massachusetts Bay, who were constantly at theological and political odds with the Puritan establishment there, but were on excellent terms with the famous esotericist, Dr Robert Childe -- one of the dedicatees of the 1651 English translation of Agrippa's "Three Books of Occult Philosophy." Allerton himself was the brother-in-law of Jonathan Brewster, who was one of the earliest alchemists in old New England.

The "Pilgrim" church at Plymouth Colony came eventually to be ruled by ordained Puritan ministers sent from Massachusetts Bay Colony, and in the 1690s Plymouth even lost its political independence as a colony and was swallowed up by Massachusetts Bay, thanks to the machinations of the Winslows and a few others. From the 1660s onward it does make sense to see Plymouth as becoming ever more Puritan and Calvinist, but that was not true of the early Colony.

Also, one of the other reasons why the Pilgrims left Holland when they did was the impending expiration of a treaty of peace and the fear of Spanish (Catholic) military intervention in Holland.

latheChuck said...

Re: The Secret Life of Plants - I didn't mean to dismiss everything in TSLoP as pseudo-science, only to identify a couple of memorable examples. It really heightened my awareness of the difference between an experiment which is difficult to replicate (because of ambiguous variables), and impossible to replicate (because it depends on the flow of mental states within the experimenter). (Research may also be impossible to replicate because it's flat out fraudulent, but that's a different sort of problem.)

I find more wonders than I can absorb, in textbooks of biology and botany, and in my 1/4-acre suburban plot. I have a frequent interplay between unplanned observations from the natural world, planned experiments in the garden, written advice on gardens, and college-level textbook study. Ideally, the pieces fit together with breadth and depth.

mallow said...


Well, if you were an omniscient and omnipotent creator who wanted to create beings so that they would grow in character, why would you design them and their environment so that they would have to experience suffering in order to grow? I don't know what an alternative would be, but if I were an omniscient and omnipotent god I'm sure I could think of lots! And anyway how benevolent is it to impose a rule on your creations that they must keep returning here until they've grown sufficiently? Don't we get a say in that? And if we're here voluntarily how free or voluntary could that choice have been when the rules of our existence on all levels are set by a higher power?

If people only suffered as a direct result of and proportionally to their own bad impulses that would be one thing. But that's not what happens. People suffer from acts of nature that have nothing to do with any human's actions. Children who've done nothing wrong suffer agonising pain and misery.

If a human justified inflicting horrible suffering on someone in order to help them to grow in character, or become wise and compassionate, or whatever, I'd consider that morally repugnant and I'd judge any such creator the same way.

If, on the other hand, there isn't one creator being who is omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent, then I suppose the learning character stuff could just be an impersonal law of the universe. It could just be the way it seems to work, whether we like it or not, and we're not going to be able to find out why any time soon. If our ultimate creator is a kind of void then It can't be 'loving'. It can't really care about what it creates because caring is a human idea. That thought does depress me I have to say. It's like finding a big black hole where a nice benevolent creator God used to be. It's helping me to think that I can just ignore that void (or rail at it like an idiot when I feel like it - since it's not exactly going to be bothered...)and focus instead on a kind of lower level where there could be, maybe have to be, powers for good (as I value it).

I'm really the last person in the world to give advice to anyone else struggling with these things but since I do tend to have an opinion on everything, I will anyway;-). You say you were motivated as a lover of god. Maybe your dismay now is partly dismay with the God you loved? Or with your concept of god? I can only understand relationships with gods by analogy with relationships between humans at the moment. If you loved a person, and you felt they'd let you down, you might get stuck in dismay, or despair, because you hadn't let yourself feel angry with them. And behind the anger there might be fear that the person doesn't really love you or you're not loveable or something like that. So facing that can of worms might be a path to go down. On the other hand I might well be completely projecting here so take that for whatever it's worth!

About countries, I have thought about non-English speaking countries but outside of Europe I'm not sure how I'd adapt to those countries because I'm not familiar with their cultures at all really. I'd learn languages happily but non-English speaking countries other than Europeans ones would be a real leap into the unknown for me. Plus like most Irish people I have relatives and friends in Canada, the US, Oz and New Zealand. There's no safe haven I think so maybe it's just a case of picking your poison at this point.

onething said...


Hmm, well, according to the rather good book I just read, the original Plymouth colony were Calvinists. All the people you mention I have just been reading about. How amazing that you are a descendant of both Cushman and Allerton, and know so much about all this. Do you agree with me, then, that the pilgrims religious lives were also entwined in politics and economics?

onething said...


People toss around the words omniscient and omnipotent but who really knows what the possibilities are? I suppose that we are going to learn and grow forever. Some have said, for example, that enlightenment is not the end but the beginning. An analogy might be that you have to learn the alphabet and some phonics before you can embark upon a lifetime of reading.

People, again, think that all the rules are arbitrary, set at will by an arbitrary God who could very well have done differently, like creating a board game. I think that the way things work are fundamental to the fabric of the universe. What is God? In my opinion, the fundamental attribute of God is existence itself. Existence is a mystery, an impossible problem for the mind. Since existence cannot arise out of nothingness, it means that God has this really strange attribute of self existence. Existence is obviously good. All existence emanates from God who is everything and is therefore completely magnanimous. There is no motivation for any anger or impatience or offense. The things people say about God are egotistical imaginations. God's goodness therefore arises out of his nature and I believe this is why Jesus said, Why do you call me good? There is but one who is good.
That which people call evil exists within a limited spectrum. It is neither the alpha nor the omega of existence. It arises only in constricted circumstances. It seems to be a very important lesson. If there were no possibility for evil it would mean that we are not free to explore all possible avenues of action or feeling.

There is innocence, but that is not the same thing as choosing the good. Basically, the lesson of good and evil is one of learning that other people are just as real as oneself; one learns what it feels like to suffer, and comes to prefer not to inflict it. It's really that simple. Goodness is a choice but it takes much experience to learn it. And, one comes to the point of not being happy when one is aware of other beings who are in need. Thus, Matthew 25 (I was in in prison and you visited me). The point often missed, though, is that one is not good by obeying a command about some law or other. One is good in one's inner character, without need of law.
You can say there must be other ways, but I can't think of one. It's not only that I believe in free will, I do not really think a consciousness is possible without it. Perhaps it is even frightening, but our freedom is fathomless.
A lot of people don't like that. They want God to save us from ourselves. But that God cannot and will not do. The use of force is almost the definition of evil. Love is granting freedom.
It surprises me how people blame God for the results of our own irresponsible actions.
Given time and freedom, all beings will figure out what works. Evil has limited efficacy. Goodness is happiness and to choose otherwise is eventually insane. It's how the universe works, because existence is all there is. But real love is always free. It can only be freely given.
The great majority of suffering is caused by human predation upon one another, but you mention nature. I have wondered if the sum of all the negativity, anger and murderousness of human beings might influence the planet. Maybe a calmer planet is possible if our collective consciousness were better. I do believe in the subtle realms. Thoughts and emotions are things. In some ways we are individuals and in some ways we are in this together.
But death is probably not much of a tragedy, but we think it is because we fear and feel so disconnected.

onething said...

part 2

I feel that God is more than an impersonal force. But the sense in which he/she/it is personal is a puzzle, as a person is a limitation that does not apply to God. To be a person means something or someone is not that person. But God is absolutely everything. There's nowhere and nothing that God is not. (My opinion!) What makes sense to me is that the gift of our existence involves an individuality, but that all individuals actually interpenetrate, as a free choice. In other words, we are one and many at the same time.
The idea that God could or would possibly be peeved at you for your flailing and quite reasonable outrage should really be dropped! You should no more fear God than you fear your next breath.
I am also outraged that this world is so beautiful and yet so terrible and that we are in the dark here.
I fear my fellow man, but I have no fear of God.

I do not feel that God let me down because I am fairly sure that there is much, much more going on than I can see but it hurts that I don't know why and that it was so unexpected. He was an angelic soul who was more than a son to me. I am very worried that his death was an accident and that he had a purpose that got cut off. Probably most of these things are planned in advance but I don't think we live in a completely predictable universe, so I can't help but feel that a terrible mistake happened.
A lot of people turn to God in sorrow but I never did. For me it has always been joy. It arises out of an uplifted place. I know that I am still grieving, but I have been told by a couple of women that you never really recover, you just get better at living with it. (It's 6 years.)

Patience is my only option.

Robert Mathiesen said...

It's partly a matter of categorization, onething. There is an old, old scholarly tradition of dividing all paedobaptist Protestant traditions of the 1500s and 1600s into three or four categories: Lutheran, Calvinist, Zwinglian (and Anglican as the fourth, if that is not seen as a thing neither Catholic nor Protestant). As a scheme for textbooks and study guides, it's workable and not too bad. Under this broad-brush categorization, the Pilgrims -- especially some of their long-term leadership, like Bradford and Brewster -- are far more Calvinist than any of the other three categories.

But for me this classification has always obscured more than it clarified about European religious history of the 1500s and 1600s. It smooths over the fascinating individual differences within Protestant communities, and it allows one to overlook just how deeply some these communities were also penetrated by radical theologies that the Protestant Powers-That-Be of the period regarded as heretical, including but not limited to antipaedobaptist theologies. And it also overlooks the power and influence exercised by people who were essentially secularists in the 1600s, or at least were largely indifferent to the religious or spiritual issues of their era. In short, it focuses on the Powers-That-Be and the theologies they deploy in service of their power. William Bradford's own on-the-spot account of Plymouth under his governorship does this smoothing-over in spades: it is not a dispassionate history at all, but an account of the colony's affairs and a justification of how hthe Powers-That-Be conducted them. Philbrick's recent book, among many others, relies too heavily for my taste on Bradford's account of the Colony's history and affairs -- I suppose just because it is by far the richest source we have, and also the source most easily understood by modern non-theologically-minded historians.

Despite having joined himself to the Pilgrims in Leyden, Allerton seems to have been essentially a pragmatic, non-religious man, with a srong anti-authoritarian streak, far more interested in making money for himself than in theology. He had farther-flung business contacts than anyone else in Plymouth Colony, and he spend a good deal of time in New Amsterdam on business. (Indeed, a good fraction of the passengers on the Mayflower were not members of the Pilgrim congregation at all, but joined the new colony for economic reasons only.)

Cushman's patrilineal ancestors almost certainly came from the Low Countries and had apparently been in the cloth trades there, at a time and place (the 1500s) where those trades seem to have been a hotbed of radical, anti-authoritarian heresies, including the Family of Love. Cushman himself was born and raised in the sort of rural backwater (Rolvenden) in the Weald of Kent where heretics found safe and quiet harbors to raise their families as they saw fit. Myself, I think I see vague Family-of-Love traces in Cushman's own writings. If he himself had not encountered Familists in person, then the people who shaped his theological views as a child may well have done so.

Certainly the theologically astute writers of the 1600s, including Calvinist Puritan writers, saw traces of such heresies in the books of theology that the Pilgrim's minister in Leyden, John Robinson, had published.

Robert Mathiesen said...


And yes, of course I agree that the religious life of Plymouth Colony was intertwined with politics and economics once it came ashore in the New World, deeply intertwined. It could not have survived otherwise. Bradford and Brewster and Allerton were all deeply practical men of affairs there, as Carver and Cushman, too, would have been, had the former not died in 1621 at Plymouth, and the latter had not died in 1625 while in England tending to the Colony's business affairs. But the men and women of Plymouth Colony were not all cut from the same bolt of theological cloth. (This diversity was also true of Massachusetts Bay, though the extremely authoritarian leadership of that Colony repressed its expression quite strongly there.)

Tidlösa said...

I think the Platonists believed in "God" (or a quasi-divine World of Forms) precisely *because* the world is imperfect. Therefore, it must be dependent on or a reflection of something that´s perfect. I´m not sure if this solves much existentially speaking, but metaphysically speaking, it makes a lot of sense (at least to me) to see the material world as a "fallen" part of creation, or as a lower kind of emanation. The really thorny problem then becomes: what on earth (pun intended) are *we* doing here? Are we being punished, purified, have we arrived by mistake, are we an integral part of the fallen-ness, or is there a deeper point of us being here (Incarnational Spirituality á la David Spangler)? No idea, frankly.

Patricia Mathews said...

I just re-acquired The Archdruid's MYSTERY TEACHINGS FROM THE LIVING EARTH. I had it once, read it through a few times, and at the time, could understand the various parts, but not how any of it tied in with what I understood mystery teachings to be. Ecology, yes, fine; the things wrong with some of what we're taught today, yes, obvious; but how did any of the ecology connect with what, say, Dion Fortune or the Farrars or even Starhawk were saying? And how could Plato, talking about geometry, be saying the same thing with a different metaphor? In fact, how did geometry tie in with the early 20th century psychological metaphor?

Now, possibly 3 years down the road, I finally think I'm ready for this book. At least how ecological truths reflect spiritual truths, because they're both about the way the universe works.

I guess, when the student is ready, the textbook finally makes sense.

onething said...


The Calvinists baptised infants, then? The book I read was Making Haste From Babylon by Nick Bunker. He seems to have made a very good effort to follow many threads, sometimes obscure, and fits the whole episode into the evolving religiopolitical and economic situations that predate the sailing by 40 to 60 years. I thought it very good.

I found the prodigious death rate disconcerting, not just the first few years of the colony, but moreso the people in England before it. It was far worse than I thought. It allowed very little continuity to life.

onething said...


All good questions and possibilities. I'm being dragged unwillingly to the conclusion that what we have here is the funny farm, the crazy house, in some cases for the criminally insane.
It would explain why no one knows what the heck is going on and how we came to be here.
But insanity and evil are not permanent conditions.

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.

This drunkeness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.

What is the soul? I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste on sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

Rumi (abbreviated)

Jon said...

Of course, in 3000 years, archeologists will be digging up dusty copies of Tolkien for reconstructionists to then create "neo-pagan" spiritual movements around such archetypes as Gandalf, Elrond, Aragorn, and Frodo.

so the worm turns.....

will colwell said...

First off, I just discovered this blog, and I love it. Now for my 2 cents.

I would re-title the political periods. 1850-1880 would be better called the abolitionist or radical Reconstruction Period due to the Populist Party coming later in the 1890s. Calling it the abolition period would connect the era historically to the Transcendentalists, and would be a clearer expression and outgrowth of the politics of the Transcendentalists.

Also, the socialist period of 1930-70 is also be better called the new deal or great society period or social democratic period. Remember the actual socialist movement in the USA was always a tiny minority. Its would be better to call it the social democratic party. After 1956, the USA does not even have a socialist party, due to the socialists merging into the democratic party. The socialist party does not return until the early 1970s as a sectarian shell of its past self. Sorry to be geeky, but I think renaming these periods would be more accurate historically. Maybe the Progressive era as Vice President Henry Wallace maybe the best link to theosophy and the New Deal.