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Initiation and illumination, demons and daemons
Secret Histories and Spiritual Revolutions starts Sunday, April 23rd, at 1 pm EST (9 am PST, 6 pm CET). Each session will be three hours long, starting with a presentation followed by a discussion.
Sessions will be live on Zoom, with recordings available the next day. There will also be suggested readings and optional visualization / meditation / ritual exercises. Certificate of completion available.
The course is $249.99. You can sign up for an Early Bird Special today and tomorrow, at 40% off ($149.99). For paid subscribers to this newsletter, the Early Bird price is $100.00. I sent out a separate email to paid subscribers with the code. I offer lower-priced and scholarship tickets for those who need them.
I planned to start my course on the Western occult tradition with the Renaissance, but now I think we need to back up a bit further. We might start with the Corpus Hermeticum, a group of Greek manuscripts originally written between 100 - 300 AD, as well as The Gnostic Gospels and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. (If there are other texts or ideas you feel I need to include, please let me know in the comments.)
I tend to see Jesus as a magus — also an avatar — who conveyed powerful esoteric teachings that went over the heads of his disciples (except, apparently, for Mary Magdalene). The Church, the Holy Roman Empire, ignored the content of Jesus’s actual ideas to construct a hierarchical control system. They shifted the meaning and purpose of Christ’s teaching from initiation and self-knowledge (“Open the door for yourself, so you will know what is”), to indoctrination — blind faith. You have to go back to texts like The Gospel of Mary Magdalene to get a sense of the radical illumination that was the essence of Jesus’s teachings.
Back in 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea defined the canonical gospels and removed many texts that focused on self-illumination rather than belief. Ever since then, we have lived in an upside down world. Today, we see the ongoing contortions of Christ’s teachings in white Christian nationalism and the evangelical drive to control female reproduction, to dismantle democracy and institute Fascist theocracy. A revival of the Western hermetic tradition offers an antidote.
When I pursued self-discovery and initiation via psychedelic shamanism, I had many bizarre paranormal and occult experiences. I see, in retrospect, how some of those experiences threw me off balance — they even shattered me. Growing up as a skeptic and a materialist, I lacked any occult tradition, spiritual guides, or techniques of self-protection. I didn’t even believe there was anything occult or paranormal. Then I encountered occult phenomena that were ontologically convincing, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I had to rebuild my worldview from the ground up.
I want people to learn from what I experienced — particularly, my many mistakes. I continue to gain insight from other people’s stories. During Secret Histories and Spiritual Revolutions, I hope some of you will feel inspired to share your personal psychic and supernatural experiences. I actually find it difficult, still, to discuss some of my experiences, even though I wrote about many of them in my books. Having a supportive, nonjudgmental community can be very helpful for this.
I believe a number of hermetic and esoteric ideas must become much more widely known and understood right now. I recommend Ezra Klein’s recent podcast on artificial intelligence with Vox reporter Kelsey Piper. These two progressive “normies” discuss how the engineering community accelerates AI research and implementation despite what many of them believe could be a grave danger for humanity’s near-future. Some AI researchers estimate there is a 10% chance that AI could cause humanity’s extinction — yet they keep driving forward.
Piper says she senses that these engineers find themselves engaged in a “summoning.” They realize they are opening a portal for an alien super-intelligence to enter — it is almost as if they are aware and curious to see whether or not they summon something that is, in the end, demonic or diabolic. As I have written previously, I find the current acceleration of AI and biotech research resonant with Rudolf Steiner’s prophetic idea that a super-sensible being or force he called “Ahriman” would incarnate — take physical form — near the beginning the third millennium (in other words, now).
As I recounted in my books, I suspect I once accidentally or inadvertently “summoned” a super-sensible entity through use of a relatively unknown psychedelic, Dipropyltryptamine or DPT (chemically similar to DMT, substituting a propyl molecule for a methyl one, but only synthetic, not found in nature). For a few months, I experienced a deluge of psychic effects and strange synchronicities as a result. I also learned — the hard way — why many indigenous cultures make sure to perform a ritual of sacrifice when they are taking a candidate through initiation (for instance, when I went through the Bwiti initiation in Gabon, taking iboga in ceremony, the N’ganga, shaman, sacrificed a rooster).
At that time, it was fascinating and bizarre to me that the entities which appeared in the visions shared by myself and my friend on our DPT trip appeared to us in a particular aesthetic, suggestive of late 19th and early 20th Century occultism. The entities that seemed to surround us for an hour or two with a haughty, mocking presence had an Alesteir Crowley-ish, Oscar Wilde/Aubrey Beardsley-ish vibe. Later, I discovered Steiner’s characterization of “Luciferic” beings that are necessary for human evolution but impel us toward haughtiness, arrogance, disconnection from the Earth. This seemed to capture what I experienced — along with the idea of “daimons” (not demons) I found in Patrick Harpur’s Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Other World.
I take into account Rupert Sheldrake’s theories around “morphic resonance” and “morphogenetic fields,” as well as Carl Jung’s model of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Archetypes, according to Jung, possess an autonomous existence, outside of our imagination or projections. In retrospect, during that DPT journey and in other such times, I seemed to enter into a realm of archetypal forces or subtle fields of energy that borrowed from familiar aesthetic tropes and symbolic codes, in order to communicate with me.
One of the entities we encountered in the DPT visions seemed to stay with me for several weeks. It caused bizarre perturbations — little ripples in the space-time fabric. It appeared in my dreams every night, often as a sinister bearded man in a red velvet suit, night after night. Eventually, a friend helped me re-assimilate this raucous energy through a ritual. Yet, for me, nothing was ever quite the same after that.
I know that discussing this type of experience will cause many people to discredit me. Those with a reductive materialist mindset will wave Occam’s Razor around. I’ve had to accept a great deal of ridicule and ostracism to continue to speak my truth. I’m also aware, in my life, I have often walked a fine line between revelatory insight and madness. But esoteric experiences can be wrenching. Initiation is traditionally described as a terrifying process (the “dark night of the soul”) that takes us to our edge, or beyond it. As thinkers like Georges Bataille explored in depth, the arena that our society defines as “sanity” is very narrow, very circumscribed.
I worry — it is one reason I feel compelled to offer this seminar — that the current psychedelic movement suppresses and denies any link between entheogenic journeys and the occult or supernatural.
The contemporary discourse around psychedelics seems a massive, multi-pronged effort to tame and domesticate these powerful catalysts. Expanding hordes of bland Capitalists seek to reduce psychedelics to mental health aides or tools for entrepreneurial success via micro-doses. By ignoring the esoteric dimensions, this mainstreaming of psychedelics as materialist panaceas will, I suspect, unleash new dangers, unless we take care to address the always-suppressed, taboo “Other” of the occult.
So let’s do that together.