By David Gosselin (originally published on The Age of the Muses)
“If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.”
― Aldous Huxley
Parting with our illusions is never easy. We love them as though they were the real thing. Indeed, the power of every great illusion is that it appears as though it were the real thing. Not only do we have illusions, we also have make-believe, that is, the stories and narratives we give ourselves to maintain our treasured illusions. By their nature, these illusions conceal from us the simple Truth, which has no parts, but which gradually appears in clearer shades and resolutions as we remove all the obstacles that stand in its way, one illusion at a time.
Of course, the qualitative distinctions between the real thing and the myriad imitations and illusions can be difficult to discern. This is especially the case when living in a world which is by design governed by “doxa”—the world of opinion—which Plato famously described as the shadows on the cave walls of our reality. But unless we do venture beyond the world of opinion, as Plato observed, pleasure and pain become the ultimate judges and deciders. When those things which we were told would deliver us from pain and grant us pleasure suddenly begin to lose their magic, a crisis unfolds. As the interlacing fabric of society’s false hopes and dim dreams begins to come undone, we are left with only one of two choices: rediscover the real thing or devolve into tyranny and chaos. Short of the former, the latter appears as the only truth that can save us from the violent whirlwinds of opinion whose force shipwrecks even the mightiest vessels. Today, Western civilization finds itself in just such a crisis.
Naturally, poking holes in the illusions of others is easy, but poking holes in our own, or our tribe or country’s illusions is a vastly greater task. It takes much effort and ultimately love, a love of something which transcends our own sense of self, tribal allegiance, or immediate desires, but which when discovered gives a completely new meaning to our story, sense and self. Then, as the Apostle Paul writes in his Corinthians 1:12, “We see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.”
And this is where our story of illusions begins.
In Aldous Huxley’s final novel, Island, the Ultimate Revolution and predictive programming guru presents a re-imagined utopian version of his earlier dystopian Brave New World. While Huxley’s earlier novel presented a culture in which a magical drug called “soma” was used to chemically regulate people’s inner worlds and maintain everyone’s illusion of “happiness,” Huxley’s final novel presents a more mature vision of psycho-spiritual manipulation in which the denizens of the imaginary island of Pala are given the ultimate illusion: the illusion of having finally shed all illusions. At long last, these denizens believe that they have discovered the path to attaining their higher “self-actualized” selves, thanks to a magical drug called “moksha.”
Will Farnaby, a journalist employed by oil tycoon Joe Aldehyde intentionally shipwrecks himself for the purpose of gaining access to the forbidden Kingdom of Pala, fictively situated between the islands of Sumatra and Adaman Islands. Employed by Aldehyde and sent with the purpose of finding a means of convincing the local government to give up its oil rights, Farnaby is amazed with what he discovers on the utopian island. Unlike Huxley’s Brave New World where soma dulled the pain of an unfulfilled and innate longing, the citizens of Pala are blessed with “beatific glimpses” which reveal the way to true “liberation.” As a result, we are told that the citizens of Pala have discovered the secret to transcendence and unlocking their hidden “human potential.”
For instance, chapter 10 includes the following passage:
“Liberation,” Dr Robert began again, “the ending of sorrow, ceasing to be what you ignorantly think you are and becoming what you are in fact. For a little while, thanks to the moksha-medicine, you will know what it’s like to be what in fact you are, what in fact you always have been. What a timeless bliss! But, like everything else, this timelessness is transient. Like everything else, it will pass. And when it has passed, what will you do with this experience? What will you do with all the other similar experiences that the moksha-medicine will bring you in the years to come? Will you merely enjoy them as you would enjoy an evening at the puppet show, and then go back to business as usual, back to behaving like the silly delinquents you imagine yourselves to be? Or, having glimpsed, will you devote your lives to the business, not at all as usual, of being what you are in fact? All that we older people can do with our teachings, all that Pala can do for you with its social arrangements, is to provide you with techniques and opportunities. And all that the moksha-medicine can do is to give you a succession of beatific glimpses, an hour or two, every now and then, of enlightening and liberating grace. It remains for you to decide whether you’ll co-operate with the grace and take those opportunities. But that’s for the future. Here and now, all you have to do is to follow the mynah bird’s advice: Attention! Pay attention and you’ll find yourselves, gradually or suddenly, becoming aware of the great primordial facts behind these symbols on the altar.” (Huxley, 208.)
Like any great illusion, Huxley’s psychedelic paradise appears dazzling and dreamy at first. This is especially the case for a spiritually starved society like our modern Western world, which currently finds itself disenchanted by the radical materialism that has taken over and corrupted from within the classical Western scientific, artistic and spiritual tradition that made our present Western abundance possible in the first place. However, in the case of Pala, having attained a higher sense of transcendent self, the denizens of this utopian island have rejected an industrial consumer society and are happy living a non-materialistic life of spiritual and meditative practices in a society that provides “just enough.”
But how exactly does Pala succeed in making this seeming paradise possible?
Another compelling Huxlian passage speaks to the island’s subtle spiritual state. Farnaby learns why the citizens of Pala wouldn’t be tempted by the trappings of so-called Western materialism and industrial progress:
“You mean, they wouldn’t be tempted? Not even by Sleek Speedsters and Whisper-Pink Bras? But that’s incredible!”
“It may be incredible,” said Murugan bitterly; “but it’s a fact. They’re just not interested.”
“Not even the young ones?”
“I’d say especially the young ones.”
Will Farnaby pricked up his ears. This lack of interest was profoundly interesting. “Can you guess why?” he asked.
“I don’t guess,” the boy answered. “I know.” And as though he had suddenly decided to stage a parody of his mother, he began to speak in a tone of righteous indignation that was absurdly out of keeping with his age and appearance. “To begin with, they’re much too busy with…” He hesitated, then the abhorred word was hissed out with a disgustful emphasis. “With sex.”
“But everybody’s busy with sex. Which doesn’t keep them from whoring after sleek speedsters.”
“Sex is different here,” Murugan insisted.
“Because of the yoga of love?” Will asked, remembering the little nurse’s rapturous face.
The boy nodded. “They’ve got something that makes them think they’re perfectly happy, and they don’t want anything else.”
“What a blessed state!”
“There’s nothing blessed about it,” Murugan snapped. “It’s just stupid and disgusting. No progress, only sex, sex, sex. And of course that beastly dope they’re all given.”
“Dope?” Will repeated in some astonishment. Dope in a place where Susila had said there were no addicts? “What kind of dope?”
“It’s made out of toadstools. Toadstools!” He spoke in a comical caricature of the Rani’s most vibrant tone of outraged spirituality.
“Those lovely red toadstools that gnomes used to sit on?”
“No, these are yellow. People used to go out and collect them in the mountains. Nowadays the things are grown in special fungus beds at the High Altitude Experimental Station. Scientifically cultivated dope. Pretty, isn’t it?” (Id., 164-165.)
But might this psychedelic paradise of tantra and toadstools be too good to be true?
Food of the Gods
“Substance-induced changes in consciousness dramatically reveal that our mental life has physical foundations. Psychoactive drugs challenge the Christian assumption of the inviolability and special ontological status of the soul. Similarly, they challenge the modern idea of the ego and its inviolability and control structures. “
― Terrence McKenna
Huxley’s Island presents a compelling illustration of the deeper paradoxes at hand when dealing with any illusion, especially the latest promises of self-actualization and “liberation” through the use of psychedelics. Today, an overwhelming number of individuals believe that psychedelics are paving the way towards a new sacred Tao or divine Word. From some of the most popular podcasters like Joe Rogan to Jordan Peterson, interviews and testimonies on the transformative effects of psychedelics and the revival of Eleusian “mysteries” abound across some of the largest media platforms—a worldview epitomized and foreshadowed by Huxley’s final masterpiece of predictive programming, Island.
Wherever we look, psychedelics are touted as the fast-track to a new enlightenment, which the strictures of post-archaic Classical Western civilization and Judeo-Christian culture, say many psychedelic enthusiasts, suppressed, leading to a mass population of neurotic and mentally ill individuals desperately trying to survive in a society of split psyches, divided selves and spiritual placebos substituted for traditional “ecstasy.” In a world stripped of meaning and mysteries, which psychedelic prophets like Timothy Leary, Terrence McKenna, Aldous Huxley and others argued were the key to “liberation” and “human potential,” modern man has lost his way.
So goes the story.
Today, many describe their experience with psychedelics as something that feels and appears like genuine transcendence. The ecstatic longing to dissolve all boundaries between their limited mortal selves and the world at large, thus becoming “One” with everything, is believed to lie in the experience of altered states of consciousness, sexual rituals and psychoactive plants. Through psychedelic experiences, we are told, one can dissolve the artificial boundaries and limitations of our ordinary world and recapture the ecstatic art of “dissolving our egos,” thus allowing the emergence of our higher self. But the question remains: is this the real thing, or just another imitation? How might we know the difference?
Let us turn back to our illusion and see if we can find out.
At one point in the novel, Will Farnaby enquires about one of the mountain climbing rites of initiation, specifically: what do the winners gain from their rites of initiation?
The passage reads as follows:
“Nobody wins anything,” Vijaya answered. “This isn’t a competition. It’s more like an ordeal.”
“An ordeal,” Dr Robert explained, “which is the first stage of their initiation out of childhood into adolescence. An ordeal that helps them to understand the world they’ll have to live in, helps them to realize the omnipresence of death, the essential precariousness of all existence. But after the ordeal comes the revelation. In a few minutes these boys and girls will be given their first experience of the moksha-medicine. They’ll all take it together, and there’ll be a religious ceremony in the temple.”
“Something like the Confirmation Service?”
“Except that this is more than just a piece of theological rigmarole. Thanks to the moksha-medicine, it includes an actual experience of the real thing.”
“The real thing?” Will shook his head. “Is there such a thing? I wish I could believe it.”
“You’re not being asked to believe it,” said Dr Robert. “The real thing isn’t a proposition; it’s a state of being. We don’t teach our children creeds or get them worked up over emotionally charged symbols. When it’s time for them to learn the deepest truths of religion, we set them to climb a precipice and then give them four hundred milligrams of revelation. Two first-hand experiences of reality, from which any reasonably intelligent boy or girl can derive a very good idea of what’s what.” (Ib., 195.)
Not surprisingly, Huxley chooses as the critic of Pala’s transcendent state a wannabe little Hitler, Murugan. Although a young teenager who is heir to the Palanese throne, Murugan is entangled in his own web of contradictions, given he’s victim of an incestuous relationship with colonel Dipa, the strong man dictator running the neighboring industrialized and oil-rich Rendang Lobo. Murugan admires the neighboring island with starry eyes and detests the spiritual state of his own Palanesian paradise:
“All it gives you is a lot of illusions,” he muttered. “Why should I go out of my way to be made a fool of?”
“Why indeed?” said Vijaya with good-humoured irony. “Seeing that, in your normal condition, you alone of the human race are never made a fool of and never have illusions about anything!”
“I never said that,” Murugan protested. “All I mean is that I don’t want any of your false samadhi.”
“How do you know it’s false?” Dr Robert enquired.
“Because the real thing only comes to people after years and years of meditation and tapas and… well, you know–not going with women.”
“Murugan,” Vijaya explained to Will, “is one of the Puritans. He’s outraged by the fact that, with four hundred milligrams of moksha-medicine in their bloodstreams, even beginners–yes, and even boys and girls who make love together–can catch a glimpse of the world as it looks to someone who has been liberated from his bondage to the ego.”
“But it isn’t real,” Murugan insisted.
“Not real!” Dr Robert repeated. “You might as well say that the experience of feeling well isn’t real.” (Ib., 166.)
Murugan, and ultimately the reader, is challenged on what the nature of the “real thing” is. At this point, we can observe that in our own spiritually depraved Western society in which genuine spiritual transcendence is rare and people are bombarded with countless superficial imitations of the same thing, one begins to see the illusiveness of a shortcut to “transcendence.”
The exchange between Murugan and his fellow Palanesians continues as follows:
“You’re begging the question,” Will objected. “An experience can be real in relation to something going on inside your skull, but completely irrelevant to anything outside.”
“Another thing we’re just beginning to understand,” said Vijaya, “is the neurological correlate of these experiences. What’s happening in the brain when you’re having a vision? And what’s happening when you pass from a pre-mystical to a genuinely mystical state of mind?”
“Do you know?” Will asked.
“‘Know’ is a big word. Let’s say we’re in a position to make some plausible guesses. Angels and New Jerusalems and Madonnas and Future Buddhas–they’re all related to some kind of unusual stimulation of the brain areas of primary projection–the visual cortex, for example. Just how the moksha-medicine produces those unusual stimuli we haven’t yet found out. The important fact is that, somehow or other, it does produce them. (Id., 166-167.)
At this point, Murugan intervenes:
“Not real,” Murugan chimed in. “That’s exactly what I was trying to say.”
“You’re assuming,” said Dr Robert, “that the brain produces consciousness. I’m assuming that it transmits consciousness. And my explanation is no more far-fetched than yours. How on earth can a set of events belonging to one order be experienced as a set of events belonging to an entirely different and incommensurable order? Nobody has the faintest idea. All one can do is to accept the facts and concoct hypotheses. And one hypothesis is just about as good, philosophically speaking, as another. You say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which causes them to produce a set of subjective events to which people have given the name ‘mystical experience.’ I say that the moksha-medicine does something to the silent areas of the brain which opens some kind of neurological sluice and so allows a larger volume of Mind with a large ‘M’ to flow into your mind with a small ‘m’. You can’t demonstrate the truth of your hypothesis, and I can’t demonstrate the truth of mine. And even if you could prove that I’m wrong, would it make any practical difference?”
“I’d have thought it would make all the difference,” said Will.
“Do you like music,” Dr Robert asked.
“More than most things.”
“And what, may I ask, does Mozart’s G-Minor Quintet refer to? Does it refer to Allah? Or Tao? Or the second person of the Trinity? Or the Atman-Brahman?”
Will laughed. “Let’s hope not.”
“But that doesn’t make the experience of the G-Minor Quintet any less rewarding. Well, it’s the same with the kind of experience that you get with the moksha-medicine, or through prayer and fasting and spiritual exercises. Even if it doesn’t refer to anything outside itself, it’s still the most important thing that ever happened to you. Like music, only incomparably more so. And if you give the experience a chance, if you’re prepared to go along with it, the results are incomparably more therapeutic and transforming. So maybe the whole thing does happen inside one’s skull. Maybe it is private and there’s no unitive knowledge of anything but one’s own physiology. Who cares? The fact remains that the experience can open one’s eyes and make one blessed and transform one’s whole life.” (Id., 168-169.)
Of course, Huxley’s islanders can’t sustain themselves on “beatific glimpses” alone. Tantric sex rituals and open relationships serve as the glue that binds this culture of transcendence in which everyone has become “spiritual” and works on developing their deeper self. Along with these customs, while there is no strict Malthusian population control thrust on the population as in the Brave New World, contraception customs are religiously observed; and there are no mothers: “mother” is a verb, not a noun. Children can choose to leave their families if they feel theirs is not the right fit; families are themselves communal systems, shared families animated by a lively culture of open relationships. In a word: Island is a global village of sorts where people “share” their families, themselves and mystical experiences.
On the Shores of Paradise?
In the absence of a partnership community and with the loss of the
psychoactive plants that catalyze and maintain partnership, nostalgia
for paradise appears quite naturally in a dominator society.
― Terrence McKenna
Huxley’s masterpiece of predictive programming foreshadows the many parallels with current transformations in Western society, notably the touting of an end to the “Age of Abundance” and coming “New Scarcity.” In this new age, we are told, people can be happy with “just enough,” or even “own nothing and be happy.” But where exactly will they find happiness? Where might they turn to for a semblance of abundance in a world of scarcity?
Crucial to this problem has been the challenge of changing the dominant “images of man” and shifting the focus from what is framed as superficial external material progress to inner development and the exploration of new states of “consciousness.” Interestingly, the conceptual frameworks for realizing a new Huxlian world island were rigorously laid out in the “Changing Images of Man” document produced by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in the 1970s. There we find a shifted emphasis from what was deemed the unique Western tradition of scientific and technological progress (which emerged with the Golden Renaissance) to the idea of a new “ecological ethic.” The selling point for this new image of man? Protection of the Earth’s biosphere and Mother Nature:
An ecological ethic is necessary if man is to avoid destroying the complex life-support system on which our continued existence on the planet depends. It must recognize that available resources, including space, are limited and must portray the human as an integral part of the natural world. It must reflect the ‘new scarcity’ in an ethic of fragility, of doing more with less. It must involve not only a sense of mutual self-interest between individuals, but also the interests of fellow men and the more extensive interests among fellow creatures (both near and far, both present and future).
An ecological ethic would imply movement toward a homeostatic (yet dynamic) economic and ecological system, in which the human acts in partnership with nature to harmonize ecological relationships and in establishing satisfactory recycling mechanisms. Such an ethic is necessary to achieve a synergism of heterogeneous individual and organizational micro-decisions such that the resultant macro-decisions are satisfactory to those who made the component decisions, and to society. (The Changing Images of Man, 114.)
So, the authors of the SRI “Changing Images of Man” document outline a turn towards the question of psychedelics as pivotal to addressing the challenge of reframing Western man’s self-image:
In the last 15 years there has been increased interest in chemical substances that change the quality and characteristics of normal everyday consciousness, particularly through such drugs as lysergic acid, mescaline, psilocybin, and others. These drugs, referred to as psychedelics, hallucinogens, or psychoactive chemicals, expand or contract the field of consciousness; they seem capable of enhancing perceptions and sensations, giving access to memories and past experiences, facilitating mental activity, and producing changes in the level of consciousness, including what are reported as transcendent experiences of a religious or cosmic nature (Masters and Houston, 1966). (Id., 92.)
In concert with the prophesizing of a new “scarcity” is the UN inner development goals, which seek to emphasize a re-orientation of Western society away from modern economic development and industrial civilization towards a more “sustainable” post-industrial society characterized by “inner development” goals and higher states of “consciousness.” But how might we situate this complex question and make the necessary distinctions between virtuous efforts towards needed change i.e. “the real thing” and clever imitations?
Arguably, much of it comes down to knowing our actual story, rather than the artificial narratives and “official stories” indirectly imposed on us through education, media and subversive culture. Perhaps more than anything, knowing this story will determine our own self-image and that of our society’s at its deepest levels.
This, the SRI authors were well-aware:
No aspect of a person’s total belief and value system is so unyielding to change as his basic sense of identity, his self-image. It is a well-known phenomenon in psychotherapy that the client will resist and evade the very knowledge he most needs to resolve his problems. A similar situation probably exists in society and there is suggestive evidence both in anthropology and in history that a society tends to hide from itself knowledge which is deeply threatening to the status quo but may in fact be badly needed for resolution of the society’s most fundamental problems. The reason contemporary societal problems appear so perplexing may well be not so much their essential abstruseness and complexity as the collective resistance to perceiving the problems in a different way. (Ib., 185-186.)
Continuing to zoom out, consider some of the research conducted by CIA MK-Ultra researchers on psychedelics. For instance, Tom O’Neil’s groundbreaking book Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties describes research performed by clinicians who were handling Charles Manson during “the Family’s” early formative years in the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic days. These were times when the Family was involved in benign water-sharing rituals, harmless regular LSD use and the playful re-naming of their members, among other things.
Having sifted through research journals associated with the clinicians directly handling Charles Manson and the Family, O’Neil describes how:
One of these articles hoped to find out ‘whether a dramatic drug-induced experience’ would have a ‘lasting impact on the individual’s personality.’ Another observed that feelings of ‘frustrated anger’ led people to want to try LSD: ‘The soil from which the ‘flower children’ arise,’ the author wrote, ‘is filled more with anger and aggression, thorns and thistles, rather than passion and petunias.’ Under ‘emotional pressure,’ acid could induce ‘images and sensations of anger or hate magnified into nightmarish proportions.
David Smith had studied these same phenomena, formulating an idea that he called ‘the psychedelic syndrome,’ first articulated in 1967 or early’68.
The gist was that acid, when taken by groups of like-minded people, led to a ‘chronic LSD state’ that reinforced ‘the interpretation of psychedelic reality.’ The more often the same group of “friends” dropped acid, the more they encouraged one another to adopt the worldview they’d discovered together on LSD, thus producing ‘dramatic psychological changes. Usually the psychedelic syndrome was harmless, but regular LSD use could cause ‘the emergence of a dramatic orientation to mysticism.’ (O’Neil., 318-319.)
Consider what The New Republic’s “Charle’s Mansons’s Science Fiction Roots” reports in terms of how the infamous “Family” was formed during its honeymoon period:
Manson won them with a doctrine of communal bonding: They would be a family and share in all things, including love. Manson’s made-up religion was a cut-and-paste invention that borrowed from many sources. As The New York Times notes, Manson’s philosophy was “an idiosyncratic mix of Scientology, hippie anti-authoritarianism, Beatles lyrics, the Book of Revelation, and the writings of Hitler.” But the sci-fi component was pronounced. Stranger in a Strange Land provided the Manson family with its rituals (water-sharing ceremonies), terminology (“grokking”), and promise of transcendence (Manson’s followers hoped that, like the hero of Heinlein’s novel, they would gain mystical powers). The dream of mind triumphing over matter was also the sales pitch of Dianetics.
While the formative years of the flower children are usually eclipsed by their terrifying conclusions, the honeymoon period of the Family is where most of the “magic” and “transcendence” took place. Though it would take too long to elaborate in detail the many moving parts in the experiment that was the Manson family, which O’Neil in his Chaos describes, we can observe that, among other things, the formation of the Family demonstrated the various techniques, rituals and substances that could be used to essentially create artificial family systems. This included systems in which members were ready pledge their unwavering allegiance, and, if need be, die for the family (or kill on command). While much remains unknown about the Family and the many shady psychological and chemical experiments surrounding it from its inception, the higher one lifts the veil, and the further one zooms, considering the broader cultural changes in our Western society, strange questions start to arise.
For instance, are we the Family?
Breaking Out of Illusions
Analysis of the existential incompleteness within us that drives us to form relationships of dependency and addiction with plants and drugs will show that at the dawn of history we lost something precious, the absence of which has made us ill with narcissism. Only a recovery of the relationship that we evolved with nature through the use of psychoactive plants before the fall into history can offer us hope of a human and open-ended future.
― Terrence McKenna
The basis for many testimonies by people who describe their ecstatic experience of the “real thing,” encountered as a kind of psychedelic transcendence and states of altered consciousness, is hinged upon their feeling better than they did in the past and having let go of some significant kind of psychological pain or trauma, at least for some extended period. But is there perhaps a lack of rigor when it comes to the question of the long-term effects, specifically: what happens when the magic of psychedelic experience and dream wears off?
If it does, is the answer simply to go back to the mystical mushroom or substance for more “transcendence,” or perhaps find a new psychedelic that holds the missing insights we’re after? At this point, we can observe in a non-judgmental fashion that people joined Scientology because they genuinely felt better after going through Scientology founder Ron L. Hubbard’s Dianetics training and auditing processes. Likewise, through seemingly benign water-sharing rituals, regular psychedelics use and communal “shared loved” (and Manson periodically reminding his members to “dissolve your ego”), the Family and its members felt quite at home and at peace with the world outside. Of course, whether in the case of Scientology or “the Family,” or most cults, what often appears as a dream turns out to be a nightmare.
But what about our own story of Western civilization and the many psychedelic journeys currently embarked on by its disenchanted generations? Have we played out those stories out until their conclusion?
If so, what happens when we do? If not, what happens when we don’t?
I will argue that suppression of shamanic gnosis with its reliance and insistence on ecstatic dissolution of the ego has robbed us of life’s meaning and made us enemies of the planet, ourselves, and our grandchildren. We are killing the planet in order to keep intact the wrong-headed assumptions of the ego-dominator cultural style. It is time for change.
― Terrence McKenna
The reason most people of their own volition join any cult is because they do experience transformative effects that in some way allow them to escape from unwanted feelings or deep spiritual voids. The same can be said of members of the Manson family—and virtually any cult.
Of course, in the case of our modern Western story, the narratives popularized by Huxley, Terrence McKenna, Timothy Leary and a host of intel agency-related psychedelic prophets relied on substituting the actual revolutions of Classical Greek philosophia (the love of wisdom) and real Christianity over the pantheon of evil cults and Delphic priesthoods ruling over Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome—all of whom relied on offering their cults illusions of the real thing through drugs and “altered states” or the promise of “gnosis” and occult mysteries, all of which offered a temporary respite from the extreme hardships of ordinary life.
So, the narrative and spin of all modern psychedelic gurus relies on overlooking or concealing the actual story of the Renaissance—the master key to understanding the West’s transcending ancient imperial systems of cult control—which made critiques of superficial Western consumerism possible in the first place. Understanding this shift remains central to transcending the latest modern incarnations of ancient cult control. For, it was only because of the actual Renaissance and its precursors that modern Western civilization emerged and advanced beyond pre-Classical forms of empire and anti-human cult superstition. Unfortunately, in modern times the Renaissance was subverted by the same cults, such that today’s Western world is left with only the superficial outward by-products and remnants of the once coveted “real thing.” This real thing, the genuine Promethean and Judeo-Christian Renaissance image of man, made the spiritual, scientific and technological revolutions which raised masses of human beings out of abject poverty and feudal serfdom actually possible.
While fully detailing the many instances and complex ebbs and flows that caused the miraculous changes in civilization from its pre-Promethean cave-dwelling incarnations to a modern post-Renaissance world would be beyond the scope of this essay, the irony is that those involved in designing the actual frameworks for creating a new series of “images of man” explicitly identify the fundamental image which they believe must be reworked for their “New Age” to emerge:
From the warp and woof of new and revived ideas fostered during the Renaissance and Reformation came notions of man as the individualist, the empiricist, and the rationalist. These notions gained irresistible power with the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, and brought about an essentially new image of man and his role in the universe. (Id., 27)
And as the authors write later:
In contrast to the Greek notion of “man,” the Judeo-Christian view holds that “man” is essentially separate from the rightful master over nature. This view inspired a sharp rate of increase in technological advances in Western Europe throughout the Medieval period. On the other hand, the severe limitations of scholastic methodology, and the restrictive views of the Church, prevented the formulation of an adequate scientific paradigm. It was not until the Renaissance brought a new climate of individualism and free inquiry that the necessary conditions for a new paradigm were provided.
Interestingly, the Renaissance scholars turned to the Greeks to rediscover the empirical method. The Greeks possessed an objective science of things “out there,” which D. Campbell (1959) terms the “epistemology of the other.” This was the basic notion that nature was governed by laws and principles which could be discovered, and it was this that the Renaissance scholars then developed into science as we have come to know it. (Id., 104.)
While many details and nuances would need to be fleshed out and some qualitative distinction made to get the full picture, suffice it to say that something very revolutionary happened with the Renaissance, something that goes far beyond the usual glossy art-history narratives about Renaissance sculptures and the golden age of classical painting.
So, the critical juncture in the history of the Judeo-Christian West comes into full view. For, with the Renaissance the central Christian notion of man being made in the image of God was extended the its logical consequence, namely, that man as imago viva dei and capax dei possessed the ability to fathom and unearth in ever less imperfect forms the principles of reason governing the universe as a whole—principles which were congruent with the higher creative reason embodied in man and not found in any other creature. This unique qualitative distinction between man and animal blossomed into a surge of curiosity concerning the nature of creation, man’s ability to investigate it, and ultimately each one’s choice to partake in it as a self-conscious creator who could act in the image of his Creator. This distinction between man and beast is vehemently denied and violently rejected by all Luciferians, occultists and Satanist currents currently dominating the Western world. For all the aforementioned, human beings are merely more complex animals.
But how might such Luciferians and occultists manage to put the proverbial Renaissance genie back in the bottle? For, with this new image of man, humanity was given Kepler’s development of modern astronomy, which freed the mind of man from the medieval scholastic strictures of perfect circles and starry spheres to a universal system of harmonic ordering in the cosmos, which as Kepler demonstrated, was intelligible to the mind of man. Such a new image gave us universal geniuses like Da Vinci and Leibniz, the latter developing the modern infinitesimal Calculus which made the technical construction of countless architectural, engineering and modern computing systems and designs possible in the first place. Not to mention geniuses like Brunelleschi and his miraculous wedding of art and science in ways civilization had not until that time ever witnessed. The very image of these geniuses awakens something deeper in the whole of mankind—something which we’re now supposed to forget.
But how to forget such beautiful things and believe that they were merely something of the past, rather than a living tradition which still lies dormant and waiting inside each of us today?
Simply put, to supplant this genuine tradition, the SRI authors describe the need for an extension of the scientific method into the domain of psychical research, parapsychology, the occult and various “altered states of consciousness.” The sleight of hand comes by way of introducing a false dichotomy between inner and outer progress, and obscuring the actual art of knowing the mind of God as, say, an Einstein once expressed it, or as Plato expressed it in his Timaeus as when he speaks of placing oneself in the mind of the “Composer.” This tradition is what psychological warfare nodes like the SRI, the Esalen Institute, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, UCLA and their countless other cybernetic nodes hoped to supplant with occult “gnosis,” degrowth death-cults and an extension of the “scientific method.”
So, the SRI “Changing Images of Man” authors write:
Here we can summarize as follows: the extension of the scientific method to the study of consciousness itself has resulted in the identification of an increasing number of distinct states of consciousness, each with distinct characteristics through which reality may be experienced or interpreted. Tart (1972) suggests that the rules of correspondence which exist between “normal” consciousness and the “external” world should also be discovered between other states of consciousness and the realities “external” to them. This extension of the scientific method could, he suggests, greatly enhance science and the usual assumption of science that “our ordinary, normal, so-called rational state of consciousness is the best one for surviving on this planet and understanding the universe” (Tart, 1973). The consequences could be profound not only for science, by extending greatly the meaning of generalization for example, but also for the image of humankind. The image stemming from this research as a whole is basically one which overlaps with the image from evolutionary theory, wherein the course of evolution moves toward increasing complexity on the physical level and increasing awareness in the arena of consciousness. (Id., 94.)
Some of the areas listed for future research include:
• Telepathy. The perception of another person’s on-going mental activities without the use of any sensory means of communication.
• Clairvoyance. The ability to know directly information or facts about events occurring in remote locations, without normal sensory means.
• Precognition. The ability to know of events or happenings in the future without sensory or inferential means of knowing.
• Psychokinesis (telekinesis). The movement of matter by non-physical means or direct mental influence over physical objects or systems.
(The Changing Images of Man p. 95)
In even more candid statements, psychedelic proselytizers like Huxley, Leary et al also reveal their real reasons for their preoccupation with psychedelics. For instance, Dr. Timothy Leary’s biographical Flashback recounts his and Huxley’s discussion concerning the obstacles standing in the way of a New Age enlightenment. First, as Huxley explains to Leary, central to any fundamental transformation was new “brain drugs”:
These brain drugs, mass produced in the laboratories, will bring about vast changes in society. This will happen with or without you or me. All we can do is spread the word. The obstacle to this evolution, Timothy, is the Bible.
Leary then reflected on the obstacles they encountered as they sought to flesh out their vision of a new enlightened religion:
We had run up against the Judeo-Christian commitment to one God, one religion, one reality, that has cursed Europe for centuries and America since our founding days. Drugs that open the mind to multiple realities inevitably lead to a polytheistic view of the universe. We sensed that the time for a new humanist religion based on intelligence, good-natured pluralism and scientific paganism had arrived.
Today, one can encounter countless people, especially young people, who are very passionate about the transformative and healing power of psychedelics and the wisdom gained from their experience of “altered states.” Through their quasi-mystical and ecstatic experiences, they feel they have attained a special kind of transcendent knowledge which others who haven’t taken the same liberating “mokshas” couldn’t possibly understand.
One can’t help but wonder if psychedelics were deemed the master key to repatterning classical Western Judeo-Christian culture.
But how does one break out of a dream that seems like a nightmare?
Escaping the Island
“Beauty in the form of the goddess Calypso has enchanted the valiant son of Ulysses, and, through the power of her charms, she holds him for a long time imprisoned upon her island. For long he believes he is paying homage to an immortal deity, since he lies only in the arms of voluptuousness—but a sublime impression seizes him suddenly in the form of Mentor: He remembers his better destiny, throws himself into the waves, and is free.”
The Sublime — Friedrich Schiller
Wouldn’t the ultimate illusion be one that gives people the impression of having finally spiritually transcended, since it would lead us to believe that we no longer need to worry about sadness or deception, or the many seeming contradictions and moral paradoxes encountered in a fallen world in which both Good and evil really do exist?
The feelings of love, security, and joy that we knew in our former illusions can last a very long time. Even once the illusions are known as illusions, we might still prefer their comfort over a world of the unknown—Hamlet’s undiscovered country. But what if the true power and nature of the divine only appears when we decide to do just that? What if that very act is the thing that brings us closer to the divine and true creativity? For, if God is absolute Truth and the absence of all illusions, then surely every time we remove an illusion about ourselves, others and the world, we move closer to the divine, closer to the real thing and our own deeper selves.
In contrast, the Huxlian world is the opposite: it relies on creating more perfect illusions—ones that we love. The greater an individual’s ability to do so himself, or the illusion that makes one believe that he is, the less any ruling authority might need to intervene and impose its own by force. In the case of a very good illusion, what appears as a spiritual journey might actually be a labyrinth of simulacra and simulation which could very well last a lifetime.
The Huxlians, Luciferians and occultist worshippers speak of an ecstatic emotion that “dissolves all boundaries.” But if there is some other kind of transcendence, what might we call the emotion tied to this tearing away of ourselves from our most beloved illusions? The poet Friedrich Schiller called it the sublime, which he referred to as a “mix feeling”:
The feeling of the sublime is a mixed feeling. It is a combination of woefulness, which expresses itself in its highest degree as a shudder, and of joyfulness, which can rise up to enrapture, and, although it is not properly pleasure, is yet widely preferred to every pleasure by fine souls. This union of two contradictory sentiments in a single feeling proves our moral independence in an irrefutable manner. For as it is absolutely impossible that the same object stand in two opposite relations to us, so does it follow therefrom, that we ourselves stand in two different relations to the object, so that consequently two opposite natures must be united in us, which are interested in the conception of the same in completely opposite ways. We therefore experience through the feeling of the sublime, that the state of our mind does not necessarily conform to the state of the senses, that the laws of nature are not necessarily also those of ours, and that we have in us an independent principle, which is independent of all sensuous emotions.
Here, we can observe that all great art of the kind which Schiller associates with the sublime is ultimately about tearing down illusions. Or said otherwise, such great art, as in the case of great poetry, psalms and parables are what the poet Robert Frost described as “A reminder of those things that it would impoverish us to forget.”
Prometheus, Christ, Socrates, Joan of Arc and all the other individuals who helped birth and build our Western civilization surely also felt a “mixed feeling” as they sought to embody the real thing. They knew that it was just this mixed emotion that allowed them to transcend all boundaries and change actual history, rather than simply create their own illusive ones. Though there exists pleasure and pain, joy and suffering, there is no actual duality, not in the light of simple Truth.
So, Schiller writes further on in his essay on the sublime:
“Does one now remember, what value it must have for a being of reason, to become conscious of his independence of natural laws, so one comprehends how it occurs that men of sublime bent of mind can hold out for compensation, through this idea offered to them of freedom, for every disappointment of cognition? Freedom, with all of its moral contradictions and physical evils, is for noble souls an infinitely more interesting spectacle than prosperity and order without freedom, where the sheep patiently follow the shepherd and the self-commanding will is degraded to the subservient part of a clockwork. The latter makes man merely into a spirited product and a more fortunate citizen of nature; freedom makes him into the citizen and co-ruler of a higher system, where it is infinitely more honorable, to occupy the nethermost place, than to command the ranks in the physical order.”
At this point, we can observe that while the details may be infinite, the Truth remains simple. All true wisdom, as opposed to cleverness or imitation, comes from removing those things which stand in the way of the simple transcendent Truth—the One which unites the Many. The closer we move to that, the closer we move towards the real thing. And nothing can make one lighter and happier than knowing he or she is headed in this direction, however dark the valleys, however dim the dreams.
So, one day, without any secret knowledge or dissolution of our egos, without recourse to “gnosis” or an “Elect,” DMT elves and their magical mokshas, we began to find and fall in love with the real thing, which lay waiting within us the whole time. Indeed, the more we saw it in ourselves, the easier it became to see it in others.
As we continued down our spiritual path and more of our illusions began to dissolve, we became capable of discerning the real thing from the many sparkling imitations and dazzling deceptions. The less we worried about finding final answers, the clearer the final questions became.
Suddenly, the Truth began to find us.
David Gosselin is a poet, researcher, and editor based in Montreal. He writes on Substack at Age of Muses.
Huxley, Aldous. Island. Harper Collins Publishers. 1962.
The Center for the Study of Social Policy & SRI International. The Changing Images of Man. Pergamon Press, 1982.
O’Neill, Tom. Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties. Little, Brown, and Company (2019).
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