Humans: half-way beings, balancing our dual lives on both sides of the Phanos
To begin, and to keep my focus sharpened, I will quote what I set out last column as my goal:
“My subject for next column is, can we look to “old-fashioned” mystery-teachings to lead us forward? Can “return” to pagan or medieval astrology, kabbalah, alchemy or magick, work for us now? Does the East have spiritual truths to teach the West?
We’ve come through agnostic scientific materialism in the last 400 years. Do we keep going through that path, turn back, or synthesize the two traditions?”
My readings into occult or pre-scientific systems such as astrology, alchemy, Tarot, divinatory omens, oracular readings, Kabbalah, magical incantation, astral travel, angelology, spirit summoning, necromancy, rosicrucianism freemasonry, numerology, lead to a generalized conclusion that they all try to improve humans by knowledge. Science is no different in this.
Religions have taught that God is at war with Powers who desire to “drown souls in Matter.”
The ancient mystery traditions of the pre-Christian era, such as the Greco-Roman ones of Demeter, Isis, Mithras, and Orpheus, taught Initiates how to re-connect to the spiritual by arcane rites of secret teaching, sense-deprivation, illumination, rebirth and “new life.” If political leaders were Initiates, it was hoped, their wisdom would be deepened by the Mystery.
But the great Initiate-emperors Alexander, Augustus or Hadrian (all of whom were gods to some people), still were unable to rule without violence and great injustice, it must be said. The Mysteries did not make kings into saints, nor did Christianity, Islam, nor Judaism ever turn monarchs into a model of perfect rulership. Ashoka the Buddhist emperor of India was also a conqueror.
Take Oliver Cromwell, a very ordinary man catapulted into supreme power in the England during a Revolution. He was spiritually reborn by what the Calvinist teaching called “the dark night of the soul” – and took very seriously indeed the imperative to make rulership spiritually-informed. Cromwell, like other Christians of his time, was committed to a Christ-like ideal of perfectible government. Sadly, he believed that his “Parliament of Saints” would usher in an era of enlightened government to prepare for the Second Coming. He died as military dictator over the British Isles, a curse to Catholics and heretics. He knew his failures; melancholia, or depression, killed him.
I wish to integrate the spheres of politics, scientific materialism, spiritual evolution and religion. Culture is basic to these and to our consciousness. So, in all questions of our improvement, one has to have context in the culture.
We are of the West; specifically, we live in English-speaking Canada. The “Anglosphere” of the USA, UK, Canada and most of the world’s richest nations in Europe, plus Japan and India, feel the impacts of Anglophone culture.
J. R. R. Tolkien, devout Catholic and erudite scholar of north European folklore, believed in communing with tree spirits, and he invented the Ents, living intelligent moving trees. His magnum opus, Lord of the Rings, hinted at the double existence of sentient beings when he described an elf-lord as a shining figure seen “on the other side” by Frodo wearing the Ring. Tolkien did not reveal whether Middle-earth mortals too have a dual life.
James Cameron, the author-filmmaker who gave the world Avatar and 3-D technology, portrayed a sci-fi Pandora where “god” (goddess) is real, in the form of Eywah, an actually-verified, scientifically-proven super-intelligence. Cameron invents the Na’vi and the Tree of Souls, beings of tremendous spiritual advancement. What seems goofy, unbelievable superstition to the corporate and military elite of human colonization on Pandora, has “hard science” on its side, because there is a proven Web of Life – and a tree-goddess who answers prayer to protect Na’vi. (Be sure to note that Eywah sounds quite like Yahweh, the “LORD God” of the Old Testament.)
It is no coincidence that in Cameron’s movie, scientists, like Sigourney Weaver’s character, are in parallel roles to Catholic priests in colonial empires of the Spanish and Portugese; seventeeth-century Amazonia was where State and Church waged contests over policy toward natives. In Avatar, the church and natives win. James Cameron reveals a modern, or postmodern, mind.
I mention these English authors of our time, two tales of good against evil, to make a point about our self-definition as human beings in the 21st century.
What J. Chiltern Pearce calls “physical-material-particle science” tells us about one form of our reality. Physical science, studying humans, is opposed by its premises to phenomena its instruments cannot detect, or measure, or define with mathematics, or describe with theoretical models that are amenable to “experimental proof.”
We should not look to such science to have all answers, and yet we have formed that cultural habit. We have a habit of taking “truth” from scientists and their technologies. Since 1960, physical scientists pushed frontiers of knowledge, bringing spirituality and consciousness into the realm of physics and neuro-chemo-biology. For some kinds of mind, this is progress in Scientific Knowledge of the Real; we “know more” now.
But many people are accepting too, more now than 40 years ago in my childhood, of an alternative view of reality, more informed by concepts in Judeo-Christian and other traditions. The spiritual view of the real, pre-scientific and cross-cultural, is the view religions have offered of immaterial realities. Religion endorses Tolkien and Cameron: there is life in matter, and beings in non-materiality.
Post-moderns, like Cameron, believe that consilience of science and religion is achievable. What religion or mysticism holds true can be “proven.” Examining European and non-European cultures, physics and neurobiology might discover scientific evidence that supports the existence of immaterial planes is available, if your mind is open to it.
First, let us look at some of the world’s great religious traditions. Hinduism, from which Buddhism emerged, is polytheistic, and posits many planes of existence. It also holds the truth of karma and rebirth as fundamental to reality. The Buddha’s second noble truth asserts that Separation of self from the All, or the sense of ego, is the source of Suffering (Suffering is the first truth.) Being separate is an illusion; it causes misery. The Christ said two laws govern us, to love God, and to love others as ourselves; the first refers to the realm of the immaterial, the second to matter. Islam upholds belief in the immortal soul. Mystery or esoteric religions teach that we were once all spirits; now as humans we are matter – partly, but not solely.
Hinduism, Buddism, Christianity, esoteric paganism, and the cultural creations of Cameron and Tolkien are all pointing one direction: Human beings exist as beings in two realms. One human being is in the physical, the brain’s grey matter, amenable to particle science, and the other being is not accessible to materialist knowledge.
J. Chiltern Pearce, a neuro-scientist of immense reputation, sees a sad duality in our human condition. We possess, he says, limitless capacities in our unique quality of consciousness, but self-limiting egoism drags us into matter. His research on children’s mind is landmark science, (Read The Magical Child). Pearce abhors what technological-electronic-material culture is doing to children for the first time ever in history. Matter is overcoming spirit and consciousness; for this and other reasons, Pearce is pessimistic about humanity’s prospects.
Here I attempt a sketch, then, of a cosmos (in Greek, “elegant order”) where humans are not only spirits or objects, but simultaneously the same. I am using the Hellenic part of my mind to write this, whereas the Semitic mindset does not conceive of reality this way. We of the West are heirs to the merging of the two streams of thought underway for centuries before Jesus. Plato and Moses, Aristotle and Abraham, are not easy in one another’s company.
“There is an eternal reality, and it exists before matter, before the Big Bang or any other theoretical origin of the space-time continuum of particle reality.
“That eternal phenomenon has consciousness, and consciousness found a place within materiality once matter came to be, but consciousness or spirit/mind/soul (words are very problematic here) could well exist without matter. This portrait contradicts physical science (physics, evolutionary biology, mathematics) and much that is taught as true fact and authentic reality in our culture. The meaning of esoteric teaching has been summed up in the formula, “Mind precedes Matter.”
“In other words, all the spiritual traditions in all cultures and times have a theistic foundation stone. God, however one needs to conceive of such an absolute being, must exist for that worldview to be true. All consciousness, all beings, unite in oneness, or god.
“But suspend questions about god. Stay with the snapshot picture: human beings have a dual nature, reflected physically in our bifurcated bodies, with two halves to the brain and a sketchy symmetry of physical parts either side of the spine. We are only aware, most of the time (depending on culture, education, inherent talent, gift) of our physical life. Five senses, plus thinking, give us our view of the World, outside of that inside we call “I.”
“We have brought a consciousness to the material plane in our body. If we are able, during infancy and childhood, to recall some of that life before our incarnation in flesh, we will not hold onto that recollection until adulthood. Think of the four-year-old child whispering into the ear of a newborn infant, “Quick, tell me all about Before, I am forgetting it!”
“Our mind is an intrusion into matter, a tiny pinhead with a vast root trailing back, across the “Veil” into the union of consciousness behind, before our humanity began. Matter exerts gravity on spirit, trying to pull more across the Veil to unbalance us, make us all-matter and no-spirit. Think of matter being an intoxicant. It makes a human drunk.
“We can fall in love with matter. We can go completely asleep, numb to all other reality but the physical. Or we can keep alive within us some spark of that realm on the other side of what Greeks called the phanos or fane, from which we take our word in English, epiphany, near to the veil.”
Before I conclude, I urge readers to study the texts that found Western religious consciousness, in the Hebrew Tanakh; God as Yahweh in it is nothing like the god of Plato. There you will encounter a god that is not pure consciousness, not ineffably distant, but very near to the creature “man” and learning its identity by relating to man. (Read J. Miles, God: a biography, andChrist.)
Finally, consider that being a human is a balancing act to be both matter and spirit. A human must have an ego because that is an essential tool in physical living, but the ego might exceed its wholesome function. The ego might be so misshapen that the human being knows only its material existence. Carried to an extreme, such ego is murderous. Matter appears to be all, ego lust for eternal life, and fear of death is overpowering. Matter will then engulf the spirit.
Humanity dreams of perfecting this mortal plane, making our planet an Eden with materialist science. We cannot. But we will not stop hoping politics might make us less miserable. That is why politicians aim to “make a better world.” It is a noble ambition, to shape materiality so as to make the mortal lives of humans less subject to suffering.
I live in hope that humans who want to engage in politics will, first, work hard for profound understanding of the human condition – before they rule. Maybe, with evolving consciousness, the practitioners of politics might still offer something positive for humanity’s future. Religion, occultism, material sciences, experiencing life, are part of their learning curve.
But no one of these paths alone can take a political leader to the depths of wisdom needed. “Grace,” the indefinable immaterial je-ne-sais-quoi, is still essential.
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. The previous edition of Arc of the Cognizant can be found here.