Hermeticism and the Transformation of Consciousness

Egyptian God Thoth

In Hermetic tradition, the Egyptian God Thoth, the Ibis-headed god with a writing implement in his hand, was considered the font of all wisdom; a man-god revealing to the Egyptians their knowledge of astronomy, architecture, geometry, medicine and religion. From this advanced knowledge, wonders emerged, such as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The Greek name for Thoth is Hermes, otherwise known as Hermes Trismegistus, the “Thrice Great Hermes”, the greatest of all priests, the greatest of all philosophers and the greatest of all kings.

The Egyptians were not materialists, so spiritual understandings and principles were not excluded from their science. Therefore, chemistry blended into alchemy, the notion that anything could be transformed, including consciousness.

The Principle of Mentalism, central to Hermeticism, embodies the idea that “All is Mind.” Everything that happens arises from a preceding mental state. For anything to exist, thoughts had to form first, which then manifest as physical reality. This ancient concept is confirmed by some of the most famous modern physicists.

Physicist Max Planck said, “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force —. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.”

Planck, the originator of quantum theory, received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1918.

Cambridge physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington,  wrote, “The universe is of the nature of a thought or sensation in a universal Mind … To put the conclusion crudely — the stuff of the world is mindstuff.”

During WW1 Sir Arthur collaborated with Albert Einstein to prove Einstein’s new theory on gravity. This was made into an excellent film, Einstein and Eddington. (I have posted a link in the Recommended section.) Eddington was renowned for his ability to explain relativity in understandable terms, and his lectures on this topic were compiled in a book, The Mathematical Theory of Relativity, which Albert Einstein suggested was “the finest presentation of the subject in any language.”

Albert Einstein himself, as well as Stephen Hawking, have described science as an attempt to understand the mind of God.

Copernicus made his momentous claim that the sun, not the earth, was the centre of our solar system, after studying hermeticism.

The Principle of Mentalism is the first of seven Hermetic principles. “The All is Mind; the Universe is Mental”, The Kybalion (a hermetic manuscript). Implicit in this view is the notion that the material world, including our compulsions, addictions, moods and attitudes, is plastic to our thought.  Human beings, viewed as individual holographic expressions of an all-encompassing Mind, may have more influence over ourselves and over the world than we can possibly imagine.

This brings us to the Sixth Hermetic Principle, the Principle of Cause and Effect.  The world, and our reaction to it, are the effects of thinking. Can we move mountains with our thinking?

In The Matrix, Neo asks Morpheus, “What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?” Morpheus replies, “No Neo, I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.” Perhaps we are ready once we realize who we truly are — an aspect or fragment of the Divine.

But the prevailing philosophy of determinism says that we have no choice, that we are victims of circumstances, mere pawns in the game of life, that our choice is an illusion; but the Hermeticists, rising to the plane above, learned to master their moods, compulsions, obsessions as well as the world around them by operating from a higher plane of existence, rising above what appears to be a deterministic prison. They became players, rather than being played by their internalized demiurge or tossed to and fro by the will and intentions of others.

Change your thinking and change your world. Sounds easy but we all know it is not. The transmutation of base metal into gold, an allegory for mental mastery, is not easy but still possible.

Psychiatrist Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search For Meaning, was a holocaust survivor. His story tells us we might not always dodge the bullet, but we can still retain mental mastery. He did not dodge the bullet when he lost everything in the camp. In the camp everything was taken away, except one thing, the power to choose one’s mental state. He chose to find meaning in the completion of an academic paper and this act of will saved his life. He did not dodge the bullet but, in the end, he did not have to. He survived to find out “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” (Nietzsche); yet he has the humility to admit, “the best of us did not survive”. 

On one occasion when I was discouraged about something, I picked up a book to see if I could find some words to make me feel better (a very crude from of divination). My eyes immediately fell upon a verse from Milton’s Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

If Victor Frankl could find meaning in Auschwitz, why then is there misery in mansions? The answer lies in the power of the mind to create within itself a heaven or a hell and to do so regardless of external circumstances.

The passage had quite an impact. After a while I put the book down and turned on the television. At that precise moment, someone was reading that very passage. Another of those astonishing synchronicities Jung wrote about, meaningful co-incidences in a meaningless world. In a meaningless world, we cancel the deficit of meaning by rising to the higher planes (pleroma) of our transcendent mental capabilities.

(c) Adrian Charles Smith 2020

What is Gnosticism (to me)?

Codex-VII

The standard definition of fundamentalism includes strict adherence to inflexible doctrines, either religious or secular. Such doctrines are variable and transitory, being in the nature of opinions, theories, or  propositions, improperly elevated to the status of absolute truth by a priestly caste which benefits in status and power.  Where there is knowledge (of the propositional kind), it will pass away. All truth claims eventually fail.  In my book I often refer to the Wizard, the founder of our church/cult, who had his own definite ideas about what constituted “wholesome entertainment”, and this was taken as absolute truth by we impressionable students. No one dared say, “I disagree with him about that” or, “that’s just his opinion”. In Sedona Arizona, I discovered a psychiatrist with a huge following, highly regarded by various New Age authors, who claimed to have discovered an avenue to the absolute truth on any subject using a technique called muscle testing. But all his “discoveries” sounded more like his own generational worldview. This seemed to be an updated, re-packaged and highly innovative repetition of the same old story.

 The fundamentalist insists – I know! But so does the Gnostic, so what’s  the difference? The Greek word Gnosis means knowledge but when Gnostics confidently say they know, they speak about a specific kind of knowledge – that of their own experience. Fundamentalism, can be seen as the slavish adherence to the thoughts and opinions of others. It is a false claim to Gnosis, destined to fail, and therefore a counterfeit of the real thing. Fundamentalists are also prone to accept the revelations of others as absolute truth, but for the Gnostic, there’s no such thing as a second-hand revelation (Thomas Paine).   All revelations can only be in the first person. The Wizard, for example, claimed to be a modern-day apostle and this personal revelation was accepted without question.  I see Gnosticism as anti-fundamentalist, representing a complete u-turn from my former life, but I also tried to salvage whatever remained relevant and meaningful from the past. This meant continuing to be a Christian but in a very  different way.

A critic once described clinging to Christianity and embracing Gnosticism as “rolling the same old turd up a different hill” but I disagree with that interpretation. For a fundamentalist, to embrace Gnosticism is a revolutionary act, but there are two kinds of revolution.  One kind sweeps away all that went before creating a blank slate. I would put Mao’s Cultural Revolution in that category or the French Revolution of Robespierre, otherwise known as “the reign of terror”.  These revolutions created an outcome even worse than the old regime. Another kind of revolution seeks to preserve the best of that which went before, recognizing that nothing is all good or all bad, black or white, all true or all false, but rather some combination of the two. These latter revolutions tend to stick because they are anchored more in reality. Moreover, psychologist Carl Jung, a self-avowed Gnostic, having studied the spiritual traditions of many cultures, concluded, in the end, that it’s best to frame your understandings in terms of your own cultural heritage, as this is more understandable to you.

For some years after I left fundamentalism (or thought I had), I would read a favorite author or listen a lecture but If I heard something that didn’t seem right to me, I would unconsciously adopt that idea as my own, even though I didn’t believe it. I think I did so in order to resolve an internal discomfort, as though that person had let me down in some way and I wanted to resolve the cognitive dissonance. Without realizing it, I was elevating that person’s opinion and depreciating my own. It seemed to resolve itself into a binary choice, reject that person entirely or embrace all that he/she had to say. Now that I am more aware, I can make a conscious effort to reframe the experience by saying to myself, I agree with this person on many things but disagree on others. I really appreciate his book/lecture even though I have a different view in some areas.  Giving away your responsibility is the fatal flaw of the fundamentalist. The most important lesson of my  life could be expressed in this way: Do Not Defer To Others.  Fortunately, Gnosticism is a philosophy which supports that approach.

Carl Jung compared Gnosticism to the psychological process he called “individuation”. Full personhood requires access to our own subconscious and, ultimately, the collective unconscious. In so doing we  bring forth our true, authentic selves.  Authenticity requires expelling “the foreign installation” (Carlos Castaneda).  The foreign installation is an idea planted in your head which is incompatible with your true self. It is often planted there by some parasite which wants to control you and program your mind to benefit itself.

Having once escaped the grip of fundamentalism, I came to embrace Gnosticism, which I consider more of a philosophical approach than a replacement  religion. To the philosopher, the universe is a mystery to be continuously explored but exploration is only possible once you get out of prison. For the literalist, life holds no mysteries because the answers are already known. Gnostics make no truth claims, but only speak of personal revelations and insights which are true and meaningful for them.

“We run with those who search for the truth but avoid those who have found it.” Miguel Conner

Gnosticism is philosophy combined with mythology. Listening to a Gnostic, you never really know if they speak literally or figuratively.  A Gnostic might speak as though certain things are literally true but symbolism is the only thing that matters. For the Gnostic, the exodus myth is about the transition from slavery to freedom and as such, not only true but profoundly true. Viewed in this way, why would it matter if the Red Sea actually  parted? Devoid of meaning, it would be reduced to nothing more than an impressive  magic trick.  I remain agnostic about those  things which I have neither seen nor heard myself. I wasn’t there, so I can’t  know for sure, but why close the door on anything?  Miracles are possible. To insist too much, one way or another, is to be fundamentalist. Religion insists you must accept implausible things on faith or face damnation.  The Gnostic says,  “bring forth what is within you” and what is within you will save you.  We already have all the internal resources we need to save ourselves. The challenge of this particular saying, from the Gospel of Thomas, is that it does not tell us what to believe but to find the truth for ourselves and from within ourselves.

thomas gospel

The Gospel of Thomas was a lost gospel discovered in 1945, together with other such gospels, hidden in earthen pots inside a cave in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. The Gospel of Thomas was at variance with The New Testament Gospel of John which required the hearer to believe the testimony of others – believe it or else. The mere fact that the Gnostic gospels, known collectively as The Nag Hammadi library, were hidden, reveals that they were considered heretical.

If the divine light is hidden in everyone, then salvation is universally available to all, regardless of time and place. This was at variance with the orthodox view that only by accepting the testimony of  a particular  few at a particular time, those who witnessed Jesus ascend into heaven, could we then be saved. The literal resurrection of Jesus, therefore had a political dimension, to fix authority on those who had witnessed it.

It’s hard to define Gnosticism with precision because there is no uniform set of doctrines to sign up to or identify. There’s an old saying: put two Gnostics in a room alone and if they both agree, one of them is not a Gnostic. Yet there was much greater unity amongst Gnostics than in the structured, ordered  world of the fundamentalist. Theirs was a unity of the Spirit.

Gnostic teachers encouraged their followers to paint their own portrait, write their own gospel and live their own myth. This annoyed the orthodox Church to no end because it denied their authority. Such an approach would be administratively unworkable. Sound administration required uniformity – one Church, one faith, one doctrine. Of utmost importance to them was, you could say, bums on seats. Ever increasing attendance figures was the measure of success. Success required spreading the word. Gnostics, on the other hand, were not interested in spreading the word or in playing a numbers game. In fact, they preferred to keep their Gnosis secret except amongst those who were receptive to it.  No need to spread the word indiscriminately and no need to become a martyr in the coliseum to demonstrate solidarity with the Saviour.  Gnostics were not interested in quantitative measurements, only qualitative ones, the quality of their interactions.

The orthodox Bishop Irenaeus complained bitterly that the Gnostics had nothing to rely on but their own intuition. The implication is clear: don’t  trust your own intuition, trust ours instead. Trust and obey.

“Create your own system or be enslaved by another man’s.” William Blake

The Gnostics had a unique mythology centred on the divine feminine, which I will address in future posts; for now, I will summarize what Gnosticism means, not in terms of doctrine or mythology but by briefly describing who Gnostics are. Gnostics are first and foremost heretics, always rebelling against an ossified status quo. Gnostics are also mystics, individualists, philosophers, artists, shamans, mythologists and visionaries.

(c) Adrian C. Smith, 2020

Interview at Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio

My interview with Miguel Conner of Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio. We examine what is Gnosticism and how it differs from fundamentalism. What has Gnosticism taught me? Who is the demiurge? We examine The Secret Gospel of John and much more.

From-Fundamentalist-Minister-to-Modern-Gnostic-with-Adrian-Smith-1080x675

Image and audio courtesy of Miguel Conner.

Integrating Opposites

 

We often experience the world as a struggle between competing opposites: conservative vs liberal, objective vs subjective, male vs female, right brain vs left brain, the inner life vs the outer life, the active vs the passive, and so on. In the study and practise of Tai Chi I have observed a dynamic tension between  opposing forces – advance and withdraw, rise and sink. After many years of diligent practise, you can master the rise without losing the sink or you can withdraw but remain a coiled spring prepared for the advance. Mastering integration ignites explosive power (Tai Chi is a martial art).  It’s not a question of rise or sink, advance or retreat; it’s more a case of rise and sink happening together so fast as to achieve integration. The interaction of opposites could best be described as a marriage, not a binary choice or a conflict but integration.

Fundamentalists invariably identify with one pole or another creating an adversarial relationship between opposites.

From my office window I survey a pleasant scene of forested hills, early-spring pastures slowly turning green, and below them, a vast expanse of wetland where ducks and geese are returning from their winter refuge. Soon our farm pond will come alive with tiny goslings and ducklings eagerly following their mothers. It’s a scene of perfect harmony which could not exist without a balance and reconciliation of opposites – death and decay vs renewal and rebirth. Neither should prevail over the other. Both work together for good and what we observe with pleasure is the outcome of integration. Likewise, the most beautiful paintings are a combination of light and dark.

In the latter part of my book, I identify postmodernism as a fundamentalist belief system, one which has become the prevailing orthodoxy of our time. One of the doctrines of this new religion is that there is no such thing as objective reality. This sets the philosophy on a collision course with Enlightenment principles – a worldview which asserts that there is an objective reality discoverable through reason and the scientific method. Enlightenment principles are summarily dismissed (by the extremists) as the product of a white male patriarchy, itself overcome with bias. Here we see the battleground of the subjective (postmodernism) vs the objective (rationality). How can they be reconciled?

I didn’t get too far in my expose of postmodernism before I realized, yes, I am a postmodernist myself; I only reject the counterfeit version, used wrongly for political purposes, to foster totalitarianism, censorship and societal subordination to a global technocracy. Nevertheless, we do not understand the world through reason alone and in this sense, I am a postmodernist. We have a left brain which is rational and a right brain which is artistic – the realm of the poet, the mystic, the musician and the painter. A whole person must function with both hemispheres without one dominating the other.

In the early part of my book, I identify personal experience (subjective) as the only thing we can know for sure and the inner journey as an avenue to certainty (very postmodern). Finding truth in the outer world is difficult because it’s a funhouse ‘s “hall of mirrors.” It’s hard to tell what is real and what is illusion. Observing the outer world we are confused and unsure and thus vulnerable to the Wizard’s counterfeit offer of comforting certitude.

Here’s where I think the counterfeit version of postmodernism gets it wrong. I refer to a teaching story about a village of blind people trying to figure out what an elephant is. One holds the tail and says it’s a snake. Another holds the leg and says it’s a pillar, another holds the trunk and says it’s a hollow tube; but no one has the vantage point to see the whole elephant even with the use of scientific instruments. The extremists say there is no elephant. I say there is one but difficult to discover, difficult but not impossible. If there was no elephant, then nothing would be objective and therefore nothing in the outer world could be described as true or false. If nothing is true then science has no place, there would be no such thing as a lie and research would be pointless ( no truth to be found).

You can have your own subjective insights without imposing them on others or using them to ignore verifiable facts or lobbying to have your subjective perceptions enshrined in law. All these things the faux postmodernists attempt. Subjective and objective must walk hand in hand, recognizing their respective spheres of influence. A police officer might follow a hunch or rely on intuition (subjective) to solve a murder but a conviction can only be upheld by evidence gathered and proven in court. Many scientific breakthroughs  began as dreams or flashes of insight but these must also be subjected to the rigours of the scientific method.

The great mathematician Ramanujan said that the Hindu goddess Namagiri would appear in his dreams, delivering mathematical insights, which he would write down when he awoke. He described one of them as follows:

While asleep, I had an unusual experience. There was a red screen formed by flowing blood, as it were. I was observing it. Suddenly a hand began to write on the screen. I became all attention. That hand wrote a number of elliptic integrals. They stuck to my mind. As soon as I woke up, I committed them to writing.”

The Cambridge University mathematician Godfrey H. Hardy, who worked with Ramanujan, said that if mathematicians were rated on the basis of pure talent on a scale from 0 to 100, he himself would be worth 25, J.E. Littlewood 30, David Hilbert 80, and Srinivasa Ramanujan 100.

When Ramanujan first arrived at Cambridge he insisted that his mathematical insights just came to him or were dictated by God (subjective) but professor Hardy, recognizing his genius, worked with him to provide objective verification based on principles acceptable to the scientific community. This was a very fruitful partnership. The word genius comes from the Latin word of the same name, meaning, “guardian deity or spirit which watches over each person from birth” or “innate ability.”

We become much more effective as a result of integration and the world is a more peaceful place without the either/or mindset of fundamentalism.

The amazing life of Ramanujan was made into a feature film which I highly recommend (see Recommended Viewing section for movie trailer).

(C) Adrian Charles Smith 2020

My Book Begins with a Troubling Realization…

matrix
warner bros

Reality might not be what we think it is. What we have come to regard as objectively real might be instead a carefully-constructed false narrative to pull the wool over our eyes. A whole universe of credible alternatives never see the light of day. Our imagination  has been  narrowed, our field of vision confined to a small box  resembling a prison – a prison for the mind. This realization is by no means confined to a religious context but is much more widespread than generally understood. In fact fundamentalism can take over an entire civilization, as outlined in the chapters on postmodernism.  The carefully-constructed false narratives fall apart over time, which leaves us wondering, have we built our house on sinking sand rather than solid rock? We thought we understood the world but the real truth is far different. In the movie The Matrix, the main character Neo, is horrified to discover that his every day world is nothing more than an illusion, a sophisticated mirage. The horrifying truth is that he has lived, since birth, in an incubator where an attached cord siphons off his vital life force energy. The cord is a feeding tube for an alien race of overlords.  They have reduced the human race to an energy source, a collection of living batteries. Immersed in the fantasy of the Matrix, he is unaware of their presence and therefore incapable of escape. The false narratives have a similar effect as the fictional Matrix. If we allow them to continue unchallenged, we can literally fall asleep in delusion. The only answer is to free our minds, to pursue autonomy as though it were the Holy Grail.

I have attempted to distill the essence of fundamentalism, identifying its common features regardless of the external appearances which vary considerably.

Here I summarize some of those common features which are discussed at greater length in the book.

Utopian Vision

If you really believe in utopia, no price is too high and no sacrifice too great to bring it about. The end justifies the means, opening a Pandora’s box of depravity. Like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, famine, pestilence and death ride with them. as illustrated by the Holy Crusades, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Reign of Terror – murder and mayhem, then utopia. But utopia never comes.

The Parasites

These are the ones who benefit from the false narrative.  There’s always a parasite disguised as a benefactor. The old adage applies – follow the money; but their real goal is power, perhaps religious, perhaps political.  Their real motives and objectives remain hidden and often, their very existence.

Demonization of the Opposition

Challenges to the prevailing narrative are not met with argument and reason but rather denunciation and labeling.  This is a form of indirect censorship, not as obvious as book burning to be sure but highly effective. Nothing succeeds quite so well as the smear. The strategy also serves to isolate the believers because they are afraid to listen to or associate with heretics.  Such a reaction is a sure sign you are on the right track. Perhaps they are afraid. Perhaps our liberation is closer than we think. Perhaps we need only snap our fingers to awaken from the trance.  Once we awaken it’s all over for the parasites. Once you realize you’re in a cult you’re already free.

The Mask of Piety

The parasites always manage to occupy the moral high-ground.  This has been true since the Pharisees and no doubt longer than that. Outwardly, they appear righteous but inwardly they are full of corruption. They like to make public displays of piety which in modern times has been called “virtue signalling.” Beneath the veneer of moral and intellectual superiority there exists a barely concealed contempt for the vulgar masses.

Hypocrisy

Invariably, the evidence mounts that the parasites do not practise what they preach, yet the true believers remain unwavering in their loyalty.  This represents, I believe, a kind of wilful ignorance.  The desire to believe is so strong that even when the hypocrisy becomes truly staggering, continuation of the status quo is preferred to the discomfort of uncertainty.

Arrogance

All fundamentalists have a certain contempt for unbelievers. This can range from mild condescension as in “let’s reach out to save the poor lost souls” or all the way to mass murder, as in, “let’s get rid of this evil  in the world.”  The Crusaders had this in mind as did Stalin and Hitler.

This arrogance has an addictive quality because it gives the true believer a false sense of empowerment.  The addict is attempting to relieve his suffering which in this case is a sense of disempowerment.   The fundamentalist is part of a special people, an elect. The elect know “the truth”, others do not.  There is a feel-good factor here but because every drug starts to wear off,  more is needed to have the same effect.  Every addict is blind to his addiction so if it isn’t working, his answer is – “double down.”  If the addict were not blind he would reach the obvious conclusion: the ideology isn’t working anymore because there’s something wrong with it.

Shadow Projection

Psychologist Carl Jung and others have long argued that we all have a shadow side, those attributes which we would prefer to keep secret. The dividing line between good and evil runs through the centre of each individual soul. But for the fundamentalist, the dividing line exists at the boundaries of his ideology.  All virtue is ascribed to those who belong to the inner circle and all evil to those who do not.

Shadow denial leads to shadow projection. Those attributes which we reject within ourselves are projected onto others, the non-believer or the heretic. The deeper the denial the more fanatical the projection.  The true believer starts to resemble the very thing he hates. Those who profess tolerance are plagued by intolerance.  Those who profess virtue are a veritable grab-bag of sin.  This can reach hysterical proportions as it did during the Salem witch trials where innocent women were hanged. To see a modern day example of this hysteria and mob mentality see the video What’s Happening at Yale?  

Every human being has a shadow and so does every ideology, a combination of both positive and negative attributes. The shadow loses its sting once recognized and integrated into wholeness. The concept of integration is the vital antidote to fundamentalism. Integration at the individual level yields an integration of various competing ideologies. Every ideology has something to contribute. It ossifies if mistaken for the whole truth.

Adrian Charles Smith, December 2019

A Prison For The Mind

What does it mean to be a fundamentalist? What are its common characteristics and defining features? Can we escape the prison of ideological commitment, the straightjacket of conformity and groupthink?

Answers are needed to avoid the endgame of fundamentalism – totalitarian control.  

Adrian Charles Smith entered adulthood as a minister in a fundamentalist Christian sect, a loyal follower of a man he now calls the Wizard. But as with the Wizard of Oz, all was revealed to be a sham and his questioning of authority led to excommunication and life in the secular world.  Yet, once away from  the church, he observed fundamentalism in unexpected places – in the corporate world, in science and economics, in political ideologies, New Age movements and in postmodern philosophy. Different contexts, yes, but the same underlying phenomenon, the same adherence to ‘one truth’.  

In these adventurous essays, Smith, with equal amounts of erudition, humour and insight, examines why we are drawn to these fundamentalist approaches. His search ranges from the caves of Nag Hammadi to the hallways of Ivy League universities, from communist Romania to Sedona Arizona. He discovers his potential for unconscious relapse to one all-knowing ‘Wizard’ but eventually realizes that fundamentalists live in isolated camps, the truly free have genuine community, and unity in the midst of disagreement is possible.

This is a book about fundamentalism in all its pervasive, insidious manifestations.

Available through Amazon: USA, or Canada