I listened to an hour-long podcast on Welsh author Arthur Machen this afternoon, and not once was there mention of Machen’s membership in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. “An odd and unfortunate omission,” I think — though I concede that the podcast was otherwise quite informative. Why should it matter? Omissions of this sort are perhaps how the occult stays occult. I wonder, too, about Ishmael Reed, who includes Golden Dawn member Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Thoth in the multi-page “Partial Bibliography” at the end of his 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo. Crowley’s book is a study of the Tarot. Reed mentions neither Crowley nor the Tarot elsewhere in Mumbo Jumbo. Yet The Book of Thoth — the mythic one, the one alleged to have been written by Thoth himself — is the “Text” sought by the warring secret societies in Reed’s novel. This is but one of many aspects of Mumbo Jumbo deserving further study. I wonder, too, for instance, about the novel’s critique of Sigmund Freud and the references to Freud’s protégé and rival, Carl Jung. Freud is said to have fainted on two occasions — and Jung was present both times. On the first occasion, Jung “spoke about being fascinated by some recent discoveries of ‘peat-bog corpses.'” Jung’s interest in the subject of mummies and corpses “got on Freud’s nerves,” causing the latter to faint in the midst of dinner. On the second occasion, Freud fainted during a discussion of a Karl Abraham paper, an Oedipal reading of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten. (See Nausicaa Renner’s essay, “Freud Fainting.”) Reed focuses, though, not on the fainting but on Freud and Jung’s reactions to America. For Freud, the place was “a big mistake” — part of some monstrous “Black Tide of Mud.” Reed suggests that Freud was an Atonist. Jung, meanwhile, was more ambivalent about America. Like Freud, however, he viewed America as a place where Europeans would have to undergo a transformation to survive — a process Jung called “going Black” (Reed 209). Reed takes the additional step of celebrating this process, granting it agency and giving it the name “Jes Grew.”
At the center of a large, circular wooden coffee table in my upstairs study sits a copy of The Findhorn Garden: Pioneering a New Vision of Man and Nature in Cooperation, published by Harper & Row in 1975 as part of the Lindisfarne series. This latter was a book series under the editorship of William Irwin Thompson “devoted to an exploration of the newly emerging planetary society and the future evolution of man.” Other books in the series include Thompson’s Passages About Earth and Satprem’s Sri Aurobindo, or The Adventure of Consciousness. Do changes in mass sentiment correlate with changes in collective serotonin levels? Steven Johnson lays out the beginnings of a theory to that effect in his book on videogames and related forms of popular culture. Am I interested in practicing a kind of bibliomancy? The versions of Tarot and I Ching and astrology that hold meaning-making potential for me require belief in the power of “symbol-sets” to prompt “synchronicities.” The idea is that all of the above-mentioned symbol-sets allow some “acausal connecting principle” to manifest, as Carl Jung would say. This principle or power behaves as befits a trickster. We know it through its effects to be some sort of distributed intelligence, of which I and other users are but a part. We share with this intelligence a capacity for kindness and benevolence and care. We exercise this capacity by assembling daily reality into a jubilant, communicative mystery, containing inexplicably meaningful correlations and correspondences, there in the background like birdsong, for those who have ears to hear.
The drug experience enters cultural memory, becomes an object of philosophical investigation from the Romantic period onward — though perhaps it was already informing the thinking of the Ancient Greeks by way of the festival of Eleusis. Walter Burkert writes of these famed “experiences of ecstasy and wonder” in his book Ancient Mystery Cults, a work of “comparative phenomenology.” I think of it as a form of listening across time for psychedelic travel narratives, trip reports from wonderland written by heads possessed by a shared, singular-but-multiple “voice of experience,” a “general equivalent” allowing Being to relate to itself across time. By reading literary history as a continuous dialogue, something like a holy ghost emerges, self-consistent despite change, urging us toward happiness and freedom. Ernst Bloch called it the “Utopian impulse” or the “principle of Hope.” Jung imagined it as a “collective unconscious.” Teaching a course this way is a bit like saying, “You, too, can live allegorically. The way to do so is by reading.”