Parzifal’s dear friend and colleague, The Rev. Elizabeth Green has done a fine job summarizing aspects of Tarnas’ newest book. Please note this is NOT a finished paper or presentation–it is a set of notes used to present at a Salon.



Richard Tarnas’ Cosmos and Psyche, pp. xii-70

Presented by Rev. Elizabeth L. Greene

Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

March 2, 2007


A great poem (slightly abridged) by Matthew Arnold x, who in 1867 captured the modern sensibility:

The sea is calm to-night.

The tide is fulol, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits:–on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.

Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!

Only, from the long line of spray

Where the sea meets the moon-blanced land,

Listen! You hear the gratig roar

Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,

At their return, up the high strand,

Begin, and cease, and then again begin,

With tremulous cadence slow, and bring

The eternal note of sadness in.


The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breat

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! For the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.


“Our psyche is set up in accord with the structure of the universe, and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the infinitesimal and most subjective reaches of the psyche.” C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams Reflections

Sections written in italics are my summaries of each section. Section [in brackets] are my commentaries or questions about Tarnas’ ideas, not a representation of those ideas.

[To start with a note of appreciation, I am immensely grateful that Richard Tarnas knows how to write, and can communicate so coherently and clearly a lot of difficult concepts.]


Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, Santayana declared and the metaphor is apt. The mind that seeks the deepest intellectual fulfillment does not give itself up to every passing idea. Yet what is sometimes forgotten is the larger purpose of such a virtue. For in the end, chastity is something one preserves not for its own sake, which would be barren, but rather so that one may be fully ready for the moment of surrender to the beloved, the suitor whose aim is true. Whether in knowledge or in love, the capacity to recognize and embrace that moment when it finally arrives, perhaps in quite unexpected circumstances, is essential to the virtue. Only with that discernment and inward opening can the full participatory engagement unfold that brings forth new realities and new knowledge.

This tension between critical rigor and openness to radically new truths is what has always been necessary for furthering human understanding of the biggest issues, and is what is needed now to address the disorientation, alienation and lack of deep insight that currently plagues humanity.

I. The Transformation of the Cosmos

The Birth of the Modern Self

It began with Pico della Mirandola’s Oration in 1486 [he was 23 years old!], when he prophesied the glorious Humanism that would inform everything through 1637—and beyond, in a different form—celebrating the human self as the crown of creation. God’s words, through Pico: “…with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer.”(4)

Dawn of a New Universe [A process Tarnas hopes is happening now.]

Discovering the sun, not the earth, is at the center of things was a numinous, paradigm-shattering happening, elevating human capability to the level of being able to apprehend Divine order. Developments over the centuries had unforeseen consequences.

A highly spiritual, sacred discovery in its original form.

It hugely magnified confidence in human reason.

Copernicus, Kepler et al were unimaginably isolated, despised and rejected by almost all respected authorities, to whom a heliocentric universe was laughably dismissable—with their cosmology and basic assumptions [basically, everyone’s cosmology and basic assumptions], heliocentrism was physically and philosophically impossible. [Tarnas’ reasons for spending a bit of time with this point become clear in later chapters….]

The first Copernicans were first operating out of intuition, out of an ahead-of-their-time faith in the human capacity to grasp “the true forms of the divinely created universe.”

Definition of “reason” itself had to change—what can be accepted as truth and evidence, how to interpret and see patterns.

This seminal event began in faith and wonder, unforeseeably leading over the centuries to the antithesis of this sacred attitude.

Two Paradigms of History

Paradoxical human mythologies in the West: 1) “Progress of mankind, onward and upward forever” [Nineteenth-century Unitarian forefather James Freeman Clarke], and 2) Myth of the Fall, in which human hubris destroys the state of oneness with nature, alienates itself from the “spiritual dimension of being.” (13) It may be possible after all these centuries to rise above these intertwined paradigms and find a new synthesis, especially with the perspective offered by postmodernism.

Two paradigms articulated, raising question of humankind’s direction and end. [Isn’t the first paradigm, about humanity’s unlimited ability for—and right to—progress basically stronger than the second?]

John Stuart Mill’s comment that, in intellectual controversies, both sides tend to be “in the right in what they affirmed, though in the wrong in what they denied,” (13) meaning that both sides are “intensely partial” (14)

The ability to hold opposite truths at the same time—to hang around in paradox instead of dogmatism or even partiality—may lead us to discover a synthesis. Physicist Neils Bohr’s “The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” (14)

Postmodernism helps in deconstructing entrenched positions—although, in claiming paradigm-free relativism to be what reality is about, they ignore their own paradigm.

Forging the Self, Disenchanting the World

In the primal world view, everything in the world/cosmos had a soul and therefore was always invested with deep significance. This obviously included human beings, who related with each other and everything else as part of an interconnected whole, all of which had meaning. The modern mind, taking with deadly seriousness its perception of the self as isolated, autonomous, and self-perpetuating, has moved over the century to a profoundly-held sense that we are subjects (self-reflecting) and everything else is object (to be acted upon by us). We are the bosses and we are the source of meaning and purpose ,masters of our destiny and captains of our soul in a universe that has no messages to give us, no meaning from which we can take inspiration or solace or advice.

Modern mind asserts radical separation between subject and object.

Primal human saw everything as saturated with meaning, both human and cosmic—anima mundi. Humans saw themselves as full participants with the “interior life of the natural world and cosmos.” (17)

Modern mind believes that to project meaning onto the non-human world is an epistemological fallacy. To see the world as communicating with one in deep and important ways—to see it as a “sacred text” (18)—is probably a sign of mental illness. [My experience as chaplain on a psych ward.]

Modern mind understands “facts” to be true, free of values or undue meaning, while meaning comes from within human beings.

Hard for moderns to grasp that, for thousands and thousands of years, the cosmos was “universally experienced…, as tangibly and self-evidently alive and awake—pervasively intentional and responsive, informed by ubiquitous spiritual presences, animated throughout by archetypal forces and intelligible meanings—in a manner that the modern perception does not and perhaps cannot recognize.

Taking away pervasive meaning in the surrounding, non-human world, gives the human self a greatly increased sense of autonomy, power and freedom—no longer inescapably intertwined with forces we don’t understand. Now we understand them, and by golly, we control them.

God conceived as completely transcendent—creating us in His image—magnified subject-object assumptions into a Subject-object concept (God as Great Subject, acting on objects, who then, being created like Him, acted on objects lower than we). Human power greatly magnified by monotheism.

By the end of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, human centrality and power and control were articulated in totally secular terms.

“The anima mundi has dissolved and disappeared, and all psychological and spiritual qualities are now located exclusively in the human mind and psyche…. The achievement of human autonomy has been paid for by the experience of human alienation. How precious the former, how painful the latter.” (25)

The Cosmological Situation Today (“The soul knows no home in the modern cosmos.” 28)

We live in a transitional age, longing for integration, but it can’t be done without a cosmology. In our present situation, all depth and spiritual insight found by individuals happen in an “atomistic void,” (9) “a meaningless vastness.” (10)

We live in a transitional time, and from the recent deconstruction provided by postmodernism, we are seeing tentative outlines of newness: 1) multidimensionality, many perspectives needed to approach it; 2) reappraisal of scientific method’s assumed adequacy to attain knowledge; 3) deeper understanding of importance of imagination; 4) appreciation of the power of the unconscious; 5) better understanding of the nature of metaphor, symbol and archetype in human life.

Major desire to overcome dualisms we have cherished (e.g., human and nature, spirit and matter, intellect and soul).

BUT we don’t have an adequate cosmology, coherent with human longing. Copernican revolution started in sacredness and numinosity, evolved into a “spiritually empty vastness.” (28)

With all the deconstruction that’s gone on, nothing has truly questioned the ultimate nature of the Copernican cosmos: empty of meaning, alien to human questing, mechanus mundi [I think I made that one up].

Romanticism-Enlightenment split: the objective world (mind) ruled by Enlightenment world view; the subjective (soul), by Romantic one.

Paradoxically, erasing all trace of pre-existing cosmic meaning has freed the individual to pursue all kinds of spiritual paths, but “the nature of the objective universe turns any spiritual faith and ideals into courageous acts of subjectivity, constantly vulnerable to intellectual negation.” (31) [A big deal in the Unitarian Universalist tradition.]

Absence of any enduring transcendent values leaves us in the clutches of the marketplace, bottom lines and the shallowness of mass media. Nothing is sacred, literally.

Question for our time: “What is the price of a collective belief in absolute cosmic indifference?” (33)

Our long, long human living in the assumptions of subject-object duality “imperceptibly bring into being the very world we consider unarguably objective.” (35) [This seems to me a startling assertion, reminding me that science itself has discovered that observing affects the observed; echoes, too of process theology See “Two Suitors,” below.]

May it not be true that our current cosmology is a gigantic act of anthropocentrism? Is it not, if we can emerge just slightly from our worldview, strange that we have clutched all meaning and purpose to our little human breast, ignoring the richness of human interaction with an ensouled cosmos over millennia?

II. In Search of a Deeper Order

Two Suitors: A Parable (“The pervasive projection of soullessness onto the cosmos by the modern self’s own will to power.” [40])

Lovely little metaphor asking us to see ourselves as the cosmos being wooed by a suitor beguiled by our depth and passion and wisdom and creativity and love and richness, and by a suitor who lets us know that we are devoid of inner value, have no intrinsic meaning or purpose, are primarily valuable for what the suitor can get out of us. Which would we choose?

The … “capacity for differentiation and discernment” must be maintained, as it clearly serves us well in some ways, AND we must also start using and respecting the imagination, intuition, spirit, art, symbolic perception, etc.

How about if our cosmos is just a reflection of the thought and times during which it was developed? “…like every other cosmology in the history of humanity.” (42)

The Interior Quest

As the modern mind assimilated more and more deeply the meaninglessness of the cosmos, it was inevitable that it would turn inward for meaning, hence the rise of depth psychology, notably in the person of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and William James. Depth psychology brought the spiritual back into what James called the “prematurely closed” universe of conventional Enlightenment science, and it also brought a commitment to “lucid rational analysis and systematic investigation”—crossroads of Romantic and Enlightenment attitudes. Alas, depth psychology is practiced in a meaningless universe, where it is subject to critique from narrow Enlightenment thinking, often even hostile to the heart’s and soul’s ways of processing and being in the world.

Synchronicity and Its Implications

Synchronicity, “the dramatic coincidence of meaning between and inner state and a simultaneous external event,” (50) is experienced as though one’s experience belongs to a ground of meaning not understood in the modern sense of “understanding.” Although they challenge both science and religion, Jung found them to be part of depth work, as important as other manifestations of the unconscious (e.g., dreams). He found archetypes to be the foundation of each synchronitous event, connecting inner and outer. Iin his later days moved toward a position that considered the world ensouled.

Synchronicity seemed to carry the numinous with it.

Jung and publishing proposal—his just-maintained watch mysteriously stopping during a conversation about which he had been negative made him realize that perhaps there was a “stoppage error” in his own thinking.

Being sensitive to synchronicities requires a bent toward metaphor and mystery—BUT it can easily be trivialized by those who see every small event of it as evidence of their staggering relationship with something mysterious; it can also be seen by paranoids as evidence that people and fate are out to get them. “A capacity for acute yet balanced discernment has to be forged, founded not only on an alertness to meaningful pattern but also on a disciplined mindfulness of the larger whole within which the individual self seeks orientation.” (55)

Jung’s position was that what makes an event of synchronicity significant is that there is always an archetype embedded in the relationship between inner and outer. Archetypes being: “Innate symbolic forms and psychological dispositions that unconsciously structure and impel human behavior and experience at both the personal and the collective level.” (57)

Example of the archetype Saturn-Kronos working in the publishing example. (58)

The parallelism between inner and outer in synchronicity suggests that it is more than a “subjective intrapsychic reality.” (58)

The Archetypal Cosmos (“Synchronicity, represented a phenomenon that, simply put, should not have been occurring, at least not in a random, purposeless universe.”)

Astrology (a complex system of deciphering thematic parallels between stars and humans, not sun-sign prediction or newspaper horoscopes), although an ancient study, is in almost complete disrepute in modern times, for two reason: 1) its manifestations as we usually see them are silly untrue; 1) way more importantly, astrology turns the modern worldview upside down, in that it denies the meaninglessness and random nature of the universe.

Tarnas, originally a skeptic like any good modern, began to be intrigued. Harking back by implication to the chapter about the Copernican revolution, he notes, “Widespread or even universal conviction at any given moment has never been a reliable indication of the truth or falsity of an idea.” (64)

He did an enormous amount of investigation [witness pp. 72-492 of this book], and found that planetary alignments correlated both with external events in the world, and with interior psychic trends and issues.

VERY important point: astrology as observed and practiced in this deep and complex way is not “concretely predictive”; it is, rather “archetypically predictive,” (67) which means that a discerned pattern indicate possibilities positive and negative, profound and trivial, destructive and creative, etc., depending on context and human participation.

The correlations between the stars on the one hand and our planet and persons on the other are rooted in archetype, calling forth participation and soul work from human beings, in response to dwelling in a universe that does, indeed, have intrinsic (although mysterious) meaning.


Here is a poem I love, softening the separation between Mystery and existence. “Fishing in the Keep of Silence,” by Linda Gregg

There is a hush now while the hills rise up

god is going to sleep. He trusts the ship

of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully

as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.

He knows the owls will guard the sweetness

of the soul in their massive keep of silence,

looking out with eyes open or closed over

the length of Tomales Bay that the herons

conform to, whitely broad in flight, white

and slim in standing. God, who thinks about

poetry all the time, breathes happily as He

repeats to Himself: There are fish in the net,

lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.


Parzifal says, “hope it touches your Heart!”

This article orginated from:

written by Fr. Jordan Stratford+

The Gnostic World View

1. Who we really are is eternal and immortal; we’re not defined by our bodies or our gender or our horoscopes or our nationalities. Our responsibility is to be integral to this infinite core of being, in ourselves and others. The material universe is temporary and limited, but our real selves are ultimately unconstrained by it.

2. The system is not the world; the daily waking reality of economics and politics and bureaucracy, of cruelty and injustice, was not created by the Divine, but by the forces of ignorance and greed. We don’t reject rocks and trees and flowers and sex, we reject an unjust system imposed upon these things. This system forces us to feel separated from God, when the reality is that this separation is just an illusion. The system doesn’t like to be understood in this way; it thinks it should be in charge, and our divinity and our humanity should take a back seat to “the way of the world”. In this way the system is adversarial to the Gnostic. We see others “worshipping” this system, as though it were the true God.

3. Faith will not save us from the system; we have to first have gnosis – enlightenment – and then understand how our own Divine Spark relates to the world around us. Gnosticism is an experiential, not creedal, religion – you can’t simply announce that you agree with a list of ideas and be saved from the illusion of our separation from God. Real salvation requires a critical, inquisitive mind and a compassionate and accommodating heart. We need wit and sorrow and joy and silence and deep questions.

4. Wisdom is in the world and wants to be known; the gifts of our intuition and imagination are not secondary in our efforts to remember our connection to the Infinite Divine. So the practices and approaches of what has generally been referred to as “mysticism” are at the heart of the Gnostic’s journey. Dreams and fairy tales, myth and metaphor, secret and cypher, symbol and poetry comprise the language with which the Gnostic interprets the constant signal from the inbreaking Divine.

    • – Carl Gustav Jung
  • “Man’s consciousness was created to the end that it may (1) recognize its descent from a higher unity; (2) pay due and careful regard to this source; (3) execute its commands intelligently and resposibly and; (4) thereby afford the psyche as a whole the optimum degree of life and development.”

On the Nature of Boundaries

by Tom Kenyon

Awhile back, at one of my workshops, a woman approached me quite upset.

She had been having lunch with other participants in the seminar and the topic of trust had come up. She admitted to the group that she had trouble trusting others. Her new-found friends began to immediately offer ways to help her.

One suggested affirmations like “I fully and completely trust the universe.” Another offered a visualization exercise to see herself as a flower of light fully open to the world. A third offered her a private healing session at half price. Everyone at the table seemed to agree that if she trusted enough, the universe would mirror itself back to her that way.

In other words, she should be trusting to everyone and then they would act in a trustworthy way. This person, new to personal growth, left the group quite dismayed. She found me in a hallway between sessions and asked if she could run something by me.

“What do you think?” she asked. “Can I trust the universe?”

“Trust the universe to do what?” I asked.

She blinked and proceeded with her line of thought. “They say I need to trust more”

“Trust whom,” I asked.


“Rubbish,” I said.

She blinked again and a slight smile came across her face.

“Tell me,” I asked. “Who in your life, right now, do you find trouble trusting?”

“My boyfriend,” she responded without a moment’s hesitation.

“And what has he done?” I asked.

“Well he says he loves me, but he has cheated on me twice. I wonder if I can trust him.” ”

How did it feel when you found him cheating?” I asked. “It hurt.”

“I think that your natural gut-wisdom is telling you to put up a boundary to protect yourself.”

“But is it spiritual?” she asked, truly perplexed.

As a psychotherapist it has been my observation, for some time now, that much in the New Age is psychologically dysfunctional. I had an engineer friend who referred to these New Age “truisms” as NABS, or New Age Bullshit. They are like those little snacks you eat at cocktail parties. They fill you up for a bit, and give the illusion of nutrition, but they are empty calories.

I think that one of the NABS currently in vogue is the notion that one should let down one’s guard and be fully and completely open. As a therapist I think this idea is potentially dangerous and here’s why.

We have many levels to ourselves. At one level, the transpersonal, we may be spirit, unbounded by time and space, but at another level we are mammals, like dogs, and cats, whales, dolphins and monkeys, to name a few. We have biology. And our psychological health depends upon balancing our transpersonal (out-of-time) aspects of “self” with our personal (bound by time) aspects.

At the level of our biology, our body wisdom understands quite clearly the need for boundaries. Every cell has a cell wall that keeps out the world. Any cell that lets down its guard is quickly going to perish. The cellular walls set a boundary for the cellular processes inside to continue. The walls also keep out toxic invaders like viruses, bacteria and other biochemical demons.

The message? Without boundaries, there is no life.

However, the cellular walls also have little openings to the world. These portals are guarded, but if the cell senses that a visitor is beneficial, it will open the molecular doors. If the visitor is toxic, however, the doors remain closed. Among the beneficial visitors are things like oxygen and nutrition. Without these “life messengers” the cells will eventually die. The precarious forces within our animal bodies responsible for continuing life depend upon a balance between boundaries and openness.

In other words, at a cellular level, our biology has an innate wisdom to distinguish between something toxic and something life-enhancing. Biological systems set up boundaries between themselves and that which is toxic while, at the same time, they open themselves to that which brings increased life.

In the psychological realm the same principle holds true. There are situations and people that are life-enhancing and others that are toxic. The psychological task for mental and spiritual health is to distinguish between toxic people and those that are healthy. Unfortunately, while our bodies naturally create healthy boundaries, we have to learn how to create both mental and emotional boundaries between us and the world. For many of us, growing up in dysfunctional families, the skills of compassionate boundary making were never taught.

And what do I mean by compassionate boundary making? Well to explain this, I think I probably need to discuss “judgment” and “discrimination.” They are not the same thing. And this will lead us directly to the woman’s question at the beginning, “Is it spiritual to set a boundary?”

Quite simply, discrimination is assessing the apparent truth of a situation while judgment is placing a value upon the situation as “good” or “bad.” For instance, back to the young woman and her quandary about her “two-timing” boyfriend. His actions hurt her, or to be “psycho-politically correct,” she allowed herself to be hurt by his actions.

That he did this twice and might do it again is discrimination. It is logic, simple logic. This is discrimination, the act of discriminating apparent truth from bullshit. There is no judgment in this, just observation. She has observed his behavior and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that he might (probably will) do it again. If she wishes to avoid getting hurt again, she would do well to set up an emotional boundary and to become detached from his advances. This is discrimination in action.

This is different from judgment. If she were to decide that he was a “shiftless and worthless bastard,” for instance, she would be placing a value judgment on him. Discrimination, by nature, is neutral; it is not emotionally charged. It is simply a mental recognition about a reality. There is no blame or judgment in this, simply observation.

Compassionate Boundary Making first requires a discriminating look at the situation. One must clearly see the situation the way it is without romanticizing and without trying to make it into something it isn’t. If the person or situation is not healthy for you, you remove yourself. Period. End of sentence.

In the process of removing yourself from the situation you resist the temptation to judge the person or situation, as “good” or “bad.” Even though you might not understand his or her motives, and even though you might feel hurt by the situation, you give yourself and the “offender” the gift of spaciousness to do what they need to do — with one clear limitation, so long as it does not impinge on you.

I love what a southern grandmother once told a friend of mine, “Your rights end where my nose begins.” How beautifully direct and pragmatic that statement is!

One psychological task facing all of us is to distinguish between what is healthy and unhealthy. Psychological maturity requires that we act on our own behalf to separate ourselves from that which damages us. How we separate ourselves from those things that are toxic is a matter of personal style more than anything else.

As Paul Simon said in one of his songs, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover,” there are many ways to separate ourselves from toxic situations and people.

For those of us striving to be more conscious in our actions, and perhaps, more spiritual, the task requires compassion as well. But compassion does not mean becoming a “door mat” for someone to walk all over you. Rather compassion means creating a mental and emotional space in yourself to allow other people to be themselves, even if you don’t understand or agree with them. Compassion does not, however, mean that we let others intrude into our emotional space. That is submission, which is not the same thing.

As we grow in psychological and spiritual strength, we may find that we are no longer comfortable with certain persons or situations. What seemed to be nourishing or at least neutral, is now perceived as toxic. This sometimes happens with family members, spouses and friends. I am noticing that, for many of us, this phenomenon looks like it is increasing. Perhaps it is because things are speeding up and more seems to be happening in less time. Perhaps it is simply the price of self-evolution.

As we pass over a line in ourselves from unconscious to conscious (I should probably say semi-conscious, to be more exact), we may find ourselves having to set boundaries with past relationships. This can be very challenging to say the least. For those of us caught in this dilemma, I suggest the Way of the White Cloud.

The Way of the White Cloud is to see all things and all situations as essentially devoid of substance. What appears to be very real at the moment becomes only a memory. The apparent solidity of things and the gravity of a situation is actually a mirage, an illusion. Buddhists call this samsara. And we are caught up in it by virtue of having an embodiment. The art of living, from this viewpoint, is to live and take action without getting caught up in the snares of the illusion.

When clients get stuck in interpersonal conflict, I sometimes have them imagine going into the future, maybe a hundred years and look back at the situation. In almost every case the charge is dissolved. The hostility gives way to a recognition of impermanence. Why, the “wisdom mind” asks, should we get caught up in this when it is so insignificant from the vantage of expanded vision? In the realms of samsara, nothing is permanent. All is transient, like white clouds. By becoming aware of this truth, we see that we are all in the same boat, so to speak, the boat of samsara, or illusion.

It may look like someone or something has “the upper hand” at the moment, but that is true, only from one perspective. We all suffer, both the dominators and dominated, because we are, all of us, time-locked into time and space. We are also free and open, for a part of us is both unbounded pure consciousness and luminous light. This pure consciousness and luminous light may or may not be directly experienced by us, but it is there, nonetheless, like the clear sky hidden by clouds. Our clouds of obscuration, those thoughts, feelings and patterns of behavior that hold us in the samsaric lies of limitation come and go, like the clouds. But the clear sky is always there.

The spiritual task, for those of us desiring to live with more compassion, regardless of the lineages or traditions we follow, is to penetrate this level of ourselves, the place of pure mind and unbounded light. For the gift of this is that we become suffused with a direct knowledge of the relativity of all things. We can afford to be gracious in our dealings with ourselves and others because we recognize that things are not what they appear to be. The act of compassionate boundary making comes out of our luminous and unbounded nature.

Even though we may have been “hurt” by a particular situation or person, from the view of the transpersonal, all of this is like clouds, in one moment vividly real and in the next moment, gone. This spaciousness allows us to let others be without the need to judge, defile, or seek revenge.

For the young woman mentioned earlier, making a compassionate boundary with her boyfriend might look like her telling him three things: first, that based on his past behavior she has concluded that she cannot trust him; second, she is leaving him; and three, she holds him no ill-will. She goes on with her life and he goes on with his.

Now, this does not mean that the desire for judgment, defilement or revenge doesn’t arise in our minds especially when we perceive being hurt by another. But the spiritual discipline of not indulging these thoughts, feelings, and fantasies is a powerful niyama, (Sanskrit, meaning constraint or control). Niyamas, such as the attempt to remain harmless to oneself and others, strengthen both the soul and personal will. Besides reducing interpersonal stress, compassionate boundary making affords us real insight into the state of our own psychology.

What I mean by this is that for some of us, it may be a challenge to let someone “off the hook” who has harmed us in some way. But if it is anyone who is let “off the hook” it is ourselves, since the desire for revenge or retribution on another is an emotional and spiritual poison.

And so, to the woman I mentioned at the beginning, I would say “yes.” To set a boundary between ourselves and another can be spiritual. How it is done makes it “spiritual” or not. If the “spiritual life” is an attempt to live with an awareness of the sacredness of life, then compassionate boundary making is, in fact, aspiritual act. To set an appropriate boundary is necessary for all biological life. It is also a requirement for mental and emotional health, and I would venture to say for the “spiritual life” as well.

To say “no” to ourselves or another can sometimes be the most courageous and powerful act imaginable. And sometimes, saying “no” to someone is more “loving”(i.e., caring) than saying “yes.”

There is another piece in relation to boundary making: detachment. Finding your truth and acting on it regardless of how others might react is the benchmark of personal sovereignty. Such action requires the ability to create and hold boundaries. I am reminded in this of a story.

One day the immortal yogi, Babaji, was meditating in a forest with his chelas (disciples) up in the Himalayas. A man stumbled upon them and recognizing the great yogi, he begged to become a disciple.

Babaji refused and told the man to leave. Instead, the man followed the group wherever they went. Finally, Babaji threw rocks at him and told him to go way.

The man, distraught, told Babaji that if he, a great yogi, did not accept him as a disciple, he would cast himself off the nearby cliffs. Calmly, Babaji told him he didn’t care what he did. With these words, the man threw himself to his death on the rocks below.

Babaji went down the side of the mountain and brought the man back to life. Having dissolved immense negative karma, the man was accepted as a disciple.

Gurus are notoriously irascible. They follow impulses that we can hardly even imagine. At the very least, this is a story about spiritual boundaries. Hopefully in our journey to wholeness none of us will have to jump off a cliff; but all of us will, no doubt, have to set boundaries from time to time.

May all of us find ways to be more compassionate in our boundary making. And may we find the strength to open and say yes, when we mean yes, and the courage to say no, when we mean no. End. . . .
© 2006 Tom Kenyon. All rights reserved.
You make copies of this message and distribute in any media as long as you change nothing.

Ah, wise counsel–Parzifal agrees!

History of the Gnostic Catholic Church

by T. Apiryon

Jules Doinel and The Gnostic Church of France

The founder of the Gnostic Church was Jules-Benoît Stanislas Doinel du Val-Michel (1842-1903). Doinel was a librarian, a Grand Orient Freemason, an antiquarian and a practicing Spiritist. In his frequent attempts at communication with spirits, he was confronted with a recurring vision of Divine Femininity under various aspects. He gradually developed the conviction that his destiny involved his participation in the restoration of the feminine aspect of divinity to its proper place in religion.

In 1888, while working as archivist for the Library of Orléans, he discovered an original charter dated 1022 which had been written by Canon Stephan of Orléans, a school master and forerunner of the Cathars who taught gnostic doctrines. Stephan was burned later the same year for heresy.

Doinel became fascinated by the drama of the Cathars and their heroic and tragic resistance against the forces of the Pope. He began to study their doctrines and those of their predecessors, the Bogomils, the Paulicians, the Manichaeans and the Gnostics. As his studies progressed, he became increasingly convinced that Gnosticism was the true religion behind Freemasonry.

One night in 1888, the “Eon Jesus” appeared to Doinel in a vision and charged him with the work of establishing a new church. He spiritually consecrated Doinel as “Bishop of Montségur and Primate of the Albigenses.” After his vision of the Eon Jesus, Doinel began attempting to contact Cathar and Gnostic spirits in seances in the salon of Maria de Mariategui, Lady Caithness, Duchesse de Medina Pomar.

Doinel had long been associated with Lady Caithness, who was a prominent figure in the French Spiritist circles of the time, a disciple of Anna Kingsford, and leader of the French branch of the Theosophical Society. She considered herself a reincarnation of Mary Stuart; and interestingly, a Spiritist communication in 1881 had foreshadowed to her a revolution in religion which would result in a “New Age of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit.” Doinel’s Gnostic seances were attended by other notable occultists of various sects; including the Abbé Roca, an Ex-Catholic Priest and close associate of Stanislas de Guaita and Oswald Wirth. Communications from the spirits were generally received by means of a pendulum suspended by Lady Caithness over a board of letters.

At one seance, Doinel received the following communication:

“I address myself to you because you are my friend, my servant and the prelate of my Albigensian Church. I am exiled from the Pleroma, and it is I whom Valentinus named Sophia-Achamôth. It is I whom Simon Magus called Helene-Ennoia; for I am the Eternal Androgyne. Jesus is the Word of God; I am the Thought of God. One day I shall remount to my Father, but I require aid in this; it requires the supplication of my Brother Jesus to intercede for me. Only the Infinite is able to redeem the Infinite, and only God is able to redeem God. Listen well: The One has brought forth One, then One. And the Three are but One: the Father, the Word and the Thought. Establish my Gnostic Church. The Demiurge will be powerless against it. Receive the Paraclete.”


At other seances, the Canon Stephan and one Guilhabert de Castres, Cathar Bishop of Toulouse in the 12th century, who was martyred at Montségur, were contacted. At another seance, in September of 1889, the “Very High Synod of Bishops of the Paraclete,” consisting of 40 Cathar Bishops, manifested and gave their names, which were later checked against records in the National Library and proved to be accurate. The head of the Synod was Guilhabert de Castres, who addressed Doinel and instructed him to reconstitute and teach the gnostic doctrine by founding an Assembly of the Paraclete, to be called the Gnostic Church. Helene-Ennoia was to assist him, and they were to be spiritually wedded. The assembly was to be composed of Parfaits and Parfaites, and was to take for its holy book the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John. The church was to be administered by male bishops and female “sophias,” who were to be elected and consecrated according to the Gnostic Rite.

Doinel proclaimed the year 1890 as the beginning of the “Era of the Gnosis Restored.” He assumed the office of Patriarch of the Gnostic Church under the mystic name of Valentin II, in homage to Valentinus, the 5th century founder of the Valentinian school of Gnosticism. He consecrated a number of bishops, all of whom chose a mystic name, which was prefaced by the Greek letter Tau to represent the Greek Tau Cross or the Egyptian Ankh.

Among the first of the bishops and sophias consecrated by Doinel were: Gérard Encausse, also known as “Papus” (1865-1916), as Tau Vincent, Bishop of Toulouse (later in 1890, Doinel joined the Martinist Order of Papus and swiftly became a member of its Supreme Council); Paul Sédir (real name Yvon Le Loup, 1871-1926) as Tau Paul, coadjutor of Toulouse; Lucien Chamuel (real name Lucien Mauchel) as Tau Bardesane, Bishop of La Rochelle and Saintes; Louis-Sophrone Fugairon (b. 1846) as Tau Sophronius, Bishop of Béziers; Albert Jounet (1863-1923) as Tau Théodote, Bishop of Avignon; Marie Chauvel de Chauvigny (1842-1927) as Esclarmonde, Sophia of Varsovie; and Léonce-Eugène Joseph Fabre des Essarts (1848-1917), as Tau Synesius, Bishop of Bordeaux.

The Church consisted of three levels of membership: the high clergy, the low clergy, and the faithful. The high clergy consisted of male/female pairs of bishops and sophias, who were responsible for church administration. They were elected by their congregations and later confirmed in office by formal consecration by the patriarch. The low clergy consisted of pairs of deacons and deaconesses, who acted under the direction of the bishops and sophias, and were responsible for conducting the day-to-day church activities. The Faithful, or lay members of the Church, were referred to as Parfaits (male) and Parfaites (female), designations which translate as “Perfect,” and which derive from Catharism. However, in Doinel’s church, the term “Perfect” was not understood in the Cathar sense as someone who had taken strict vows of asceticism, but was interpreted as including the two higher divisions of the Valentinian threefold classification of the human race: the Pneumatics and the Psychics; but excluding the lower division, the materialistic Hylics. Only individuals judged to be of high intelligence, refinement and open mind were admitted to Doinel’s Gnostic Church.

Doinel’s Gnostic Church combined the theological doctrines of Simon Magus, Valentinus and Marcus (a later Valentinian noted for his development of the mysteries of numbers and letters and of the “mystic marriage”) with sacraments derived from the Cathar Church and conferred in rituals which were heavily influenced by those of the Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, the Gnostic Church was intended to present a system of mystical Masonry.

A Gnostic Mass, called the Fraction du pain or “Breaking of the Bread” was composed. The sacramental liturgy of the Church was completed by the inclusion of two Cathar sacraments, the Consolamentum and the Appareillamentum.

Leo Taxil

In 1881, a young anti-clericalist named Gabriel-Antoine Jogand-Pages was made a Freemason. Within a year, he resigned from Masonry, converted to Catholicism, and began one of the most notorious propaganda campaigns in the history of Occultism. Under the pseudonym of Leo Taxil, Jogand published a number of books and articles in which he “proved” that Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Martinism and other similar organizations were utterly satanic in nature, and posed a dire threat to Christian European civilization. According to Taxil, all such organizations were secretly controlled by the mysterious “Order of the Palladium,” a ruthless, terrible and extremely secretive body within the heart of Freemasonry which worshipped the Devil with inhuman rites and received commands directly from the Prince of Darkness himself. The Palladists were allegedly headed by Albert Pike, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, and a High Priestess named Diana Vaughan. Miss Vaughan, a direct descendant of the 17th century Rosicrucian and Alchemist Thomas Vaughan, had been corresponding with Taxil. Her heart had evidently been softened by one too many child sacrifices, and she had secretly written to Taxil to inquire about how she might be saved. Her correspondence also revealed many shocking secrets of the devilish world of the Masonic Inner Circle: luciferian symbolism contained in seemingly innocent emblems and phrases; gruesome human sacrifices and obscene phallic orgies conducted in hidden chambers of infernal worship carved beneath the Rock of Gibraltar; and terrifying conspiracies for world satanic domination.

Needless to say, Jogand/Taxil’s works became quite popular. They rapidly gained him the notice and smug patronage of the Roman Catholic Church, and he even obtained an official audience with Pope Leo XIII in 1887.

Ultimately, Miss Vaughan, by then world-famous, decided once and for all to renounce Satan and convert to Catholicism. The Church eagerly anticipated her public introduction, which Jogand/Taxil scheduled for April 19, 1897. To a lecture hall filled with Catholic Clergy and Freemasons, Jogand revealed that Diana Vaughan was none other than his secretary, but that there was no point in introducing her, because she had never been a High Priestess of the Palladists. In fact, there had never been an Order of the Palladium. He, Gabriel Jogand, had fabricated the entire story as a monumental joke at the expense of the Church. He had remained a faithful anti-clericalist all along. The Masons present found this revelation intensely amusing. The Catholic clergy present did not. Fortunately for the proprietors of the lecture hall, the police were summoned before a full-scale riot had broken out.

Jogand’s success had been due, primarily, to his journalistic flair and to the credibility he enjoyed as a result of his enormous erudition; however, another significant factor in his success was his shrewd recruitment of a number of strategic, and totally unwitting, collaborators.

Doinel’s Defection

In 1895, Jules Doinel suddenly abdicated as Patriarch of the Gnostic Church, resigned from his Masonic Lodge, and converted to Roman Catholicism. Under the pseudonym “Jean Kostka,” he attacked the Gnostic Church, Masonry and Martinism in a book called Lucifer Unmasked. For the next two years, Doinel collaborated with Taxil in articles denouncing the organizations that were formerly so much a part of his life. “Lucifer Unmasked” itself was probably a collaborative effort; its style betrays Jogand/Taxil’s hand.

Encausse remarked later that Doinel had lacked “the necessary scientific education to explain without trouble the marvels which the invisible world squandered on him.” Therefore, Encausse theorized, Doinel faced a choice between conversion or madness; and, said Encausse, “Let us be thankful that the Patriarch of the Gnosis has chosen the first way.”

Doinel’s defection was a devastating blow to the Gnostic Church, but it managed to survive. Interim control of the Church was assumed by the Synod of Bishops, and at a High Synod in 1896, they elected one of their bishops, Léonce-Eugène Fabre des Essarts, known as Tau Synesius, to succeed Doinel as patriarch.

Fabre des Essarts was a Parisian occultist, a Symbolist poet and a scholar of the Gnosis and Esoteric Christianity. He and another Gnostic Bishop, Louis-Sophrone Fugairon (Tau Sophronius), a physician who was also a scholar of the Cathars and the Knights Templar, entered into a collaborative relationship to continue the development of the Gnostic Church. Together, they began to shift the emphasis of the teachings of the Gnostic Church away from Gnostic theology and towards a more general view of “occult science.”

In 1899, two years after Leo Taxil had exposed his hoax, Doinel began to correspond with Fabre des Essarts. In 1900 he requested reconciliation with the Gnostic Church and readmission as a bishop. As his first act of consecration as Patriarch of the Gnostic Church, Fabre des Essarts reconsecrated his former patriarch as Tau Jules, Bishop of Alet and Mirepoix.

In 1901, Fabre des Essarts consecrated twenty-year old Jean “Joanny” Bricaud (1881-1934) as Tau Johannes, Bishop of Lyon. Between 1903 and 1910, he consecrated twelve more Gnostic Bishops, including Leon Champrenaud (1870-1925) as Tau Théophane, Bishop of Versailles; René Guenon (1886-1951) as Tau Palingénius, Bishop of Alexandria; and Patrice Genty (1883-1964) as Tau Basilide.

After the death of Fabre des Essarts in 1917, the Patriarchate of the Gnostic Church was assumed by Léon Champrenaud (Tau Théophane). Champrenaud was succeeded by Patrice Genty (Tau Basilide) in 1921, who put l’Église Gnostique de France to rest in 1926 in favor of Jean Bricaud’s Église Gnostique Universelle.

l’Église Catholique Gnostique

Jean Bricaud, Tau Johannes, had been educated in a Roman Catholic seminary, where he had studied for the priesthood, but he renounced his conventional religious pursuits at the age of 16 to pursue mystical occultism. He became involved with the “Eliate Church of Carmel” and the “Work of Mercy” founded in 1839 by Eugéne Vintras (1807-1875); and the “Johannite Church of Primitive Christians,” founded in 1803 by the Templar revivalist Bernard-Raymond Fabré -Palaprat (1777-1838). He had met Encausse in 1899 and had already joined his Martinist Order.

In 1907, with the encouragement (if not direct pressure) of Encausse, Bricaud broke from Fabre des Essarts to found his own schismatic branch of the Gnostic Church. Fugairon decided to join Bricaud. The primary motive for this schism seems to have been the desire to create a branch of the Gnostic Church whose structure and doctrine would more closely parallel those of the Roman Catholic Church rather than those of the Cathar Church (for instance, it included an Order of Priesthood and baptism with water); and which would be more closely tied to the Martinist Order. Doinel had been a Martinist, Bricaud was a Martinist, but Fabre des Essarts was not. Bricaud, Fugairon and Encausse at first tentatively named their branch of the church l’Église Catholique Gnostique (the Gnostic Catholic Church). It was announced as being a fusion of the three existing “gnostic” churches of France: Doinel’s Gnostic Church, Vintras’s Carmelite Church, and Fabré -Palaprat’s Johannite Church. In February of 1908, the episcopal synod of the Gnostic Catholic Church met again and elected Bricaud its patriarch as Tau Jean II. After 1907, in order to clearly distinguish the two branches of the Gnostic church, l’Église Gnostique of Fabre des Essarts became generally known as l’Église Gnostique de France.

The 1908 Paris Conference

On June 24, 1908, Encausse organized an “International Masonic and Spiritualist Conference” in Paris, at which he received, for no money, a patent from Theodor Reuss (Merlin Peregrinus, 1855-1923), head of O.T.O., to establish a “Supreme Grand Council General of the Unified Rites of Antient and Primitive Masonry for the Grand Orient of France and its Dependencies at Paris.” In the same year, the name of l’Église Catholique Gnostique was changed to l’Église Gnostique Universelle (the Universal Gnostic Church).

About four years later, two important documents were published: the Manifesto of the M:.M:.M:. (The M:.M:.M:. was the British Section of O.T.O.), which included the “Gnostic Catholic Church” in the list of organizations whose “wisdom and knowledge” are concentrated in O.T.O.; and the “Jubilee Edition” of The Oriflamme, the official organ of the Reuss O.T.O., which announced that l’Initiation, Encausse’s journal, was the “Official Organ of the Memphis and Mizraim Rites and the O.T.O. in France,” with Encausse listed as the publisher.

The precise details of the transactions of the 1908 Paris conference are unknown, but based on the course of subsequent events, the logical conclusion is that Encausse and Reuss engaged in a fraternal exchange of authority: Reuss receiving episcopal and primatial authority in l’Église Catholique Gnostique and Encausse receiving authority in the Rites of Memphis and Mizraim. For his German branch of the Church, Reuss translated l’Église Catholique Gnostique into German as Die Gnostische Katholische Kirche (G.K.K.); while Encausse, Fugairon and Bricaud changed the name of their French branch of the Church to l’Église Gnostique Universelle (E.G.U.), with Bricaud as patriarch. As with all of his other organizational acquisitions, Reuss included the G.K.K. under the umbrella of O.T.O. For their part, Bricaud, Fugairon and Encausse declared the E.G.U. to be the official church of Martinism in 1911.

The E.G.U. and the Antioch Succession

After assuming the Patriarchate of the Universal Gnostic Church, Bricaud became friendly with Bishop Louis-Marie-François Giraud (Mgr. François, d. 1951), an ex-Trappist Monk who traced his episcopal succession to Joseph René Vilatte (Mar Timotheos, 1854-1929). Vilatte was a Parisian who had emigrated to America early in life. He was a lifelong religious enthusiast, but he was unable to find fulfillment within the strictures of the Roman Catholic Church; so, in America, he began a quest for a religious environment more congenial to his personality and ambitions. He wandered from sect to sect, serving for a time as a Congregationalist minister, later being ordained to the priesthood within the schismatic “Old Catholic” sect. He ultimately obtained episcopal consecration in 1892 at the hands of Bishop Antonio Francisco-Xavier Alvarez (Mar Julius I), Bishop of the Syrian Jacobite Orthodox Church and Metropolitan of the Independent Catholic Church of Ceylon, Goa and India, who had in turn received consecration from Ignatius Peter III, “Peter the Humble,” Jacobite Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. Vilatte consecrated Paolo Miraglia-Gulotti in 1900; Gulotti consecrated Jules Houssaye (or Hussay, 1844-1912) in 1904, Houssaye consecrated Louis-Marie-François Giraud in 1911; and Giraud consecrated Jean Bricaud on July 21, 1913.

This consecration was important for Bricaud’s church because it provided a valid and documented apostolic episcopal succession, which was recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as valid but “illicit” (i.e., spiritually efficacious, but unsanctioned and contrary to Church policy). The apostolic succession was also widely perceived as reflecting a transmission of true spiritual authority in the Christian current extending as far back as Saint Peter; and even further to Melchizedek, the semi-mythical priest-king of Salem who served as priest to the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. It provided Bricaud and his successors with the apostolic authority to administer the Christian sacraments; which was important because many of the members of the Martinist Order were of the Catholic faith, but as members of a secret society, were subject to excommunication if their Martinist affiliation became known. The E.G.U. thus offered continued assurance of salvation to Catholic Christians who were Martinists or who wished to become Martinists.

After Encausse’s death in 1916, the Martinist Order, and the French sections of the Rites of Memphis and Mizraim and the O.T.O. were briefly headed by Charles Henri Détré (Teder). Détré died in 1918 and was succeeded by Bricaud.

On May 15, 1918, Bricaud consecrated Victor Blanchard (Tau Targelius) who had been secretary to Encausse and Détré. On September 18, 1919, Bricaud reconsecrated Theodor Reuss sub conditione (this term refers to a consecration which is intended to remedy some “defect” of a previous consecration), thereby endowing him with the Antioch succession, and appointed him “Gnostic Legate” of the E.G.U. to Switzerland.

Disagreements soon erupted between Bricaud and Blanchard over leadership of the Martinist Order, which developed into a violent mutual hostility. Blanchard eventually broke with Bricaud to form his own schismatic Martinist Order, which was to be known as the “Martinist and Synarchic Order.” Blanchard’s branch later participated in the formation of an “ecumenical council” of occult rites known by the initials F.U.D.O.S.I., from which H. Spencer Lewis’s A.M.O.R.C. drew much of its authority. In turn, Bricaud’s branch, under his successor Constant Chevillon, joined with R. Swinburne Clymer, Lewis’s Rosicrucian adversary, to form a rival council called F.U.D.O.F.S.I.

Blanchard went on to consecrate at least five other Gnostic Bishops under his own authority, including Charles Arthur Horwath, who later reconsecrated, sub conditione, Patrice Genty (Tau Basilide), the last patriarch of l’Église Gnostique de France, who had previously been consecrated in Doinel’s spiritual succession by Fabre des Essarts; and Roger Ménard (Tau Eon II), who then consecrated Robert Ambelain (Tau Robert) in 1946. Ambelain proceeded to found his own Gnostic Church, l’Église Gnostique Apostolique, in 1953, the year of Blanchard’s death. Ambelain consecrated at least 10 Gnostic Bishops within l’Église Gnostique Apostolique, including Pedro Freire (Tau Pierre), Primate of Brazil; Andre Mauer (Tau Andreas), Primate of Franche-Comte; and Roger Pommery (Tau Jean), Titular Bishop of Macheronte.

Bricaud died on Feb. 21, 1934, and was succeeded as Patriarch of the E.G.U. and as Grand Master of the Martinist Order by Constant Chevillon (Tau Harmonius). Chevillon was consecrated by Giraud in 1936, and he subsequently consecrated a number of bishops himself, including R. Swinburne Clymer in 1938 and Arnold Krumm-Heller (founder of the Fraternitas Rosicruciana Antiqua and Reuss’s O.T.O. representative for South America) in 1939. During World War II, the Vichy puppet government of occupied France banned all secret societies, and on April 15, 1942, the E.G.U. was officially dissolved by the government. On March 22, 1944, Chevillon was brutally assassinated by soldiers of Klaus Barbie’s occupation forces.

The E.G.U. was revived after the war; and in 1945 Tau Renatus was elected as the successor to the martyred Chevillon. Renatus was succeeded in 1948 by Charles-Henry Dupont (Tau Charles-Henry), who stepped down in 1960 in favor of Robert Ambelain (Tau Jean III), who had achieved considerable prominence through his writings. Ambelain finally put l’Église Gnostique Universelle to rest in favor of his own Église Gnostique Apostolique.

Tau Jean III was succeeded as patriarch of l’Église Gnostique Apostolique by André Mauer (Tau Andreas) in 1969, who was succeeded by Pedro Freire (Tau Pierre), primate of South America, in 1970. The same year, Freire had been reconsecrated as Mar Petrus-Johannes XIII, patriarch of l’Église Gnostique Catholique Apostolique, by Dom Antidio Vargas of the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church (Note 2). On his death in 1978, Freire was succeeded by Edmond Fieschi (Tau Sialul I), who abdicated as patriarch in favor of his coadjutor Fermin Vale-Amesti (Tau Valentinus III), who declined to accept the office; effectively putting l’Église Gnostique Apostolique as well as l’Église Gnostique Catholique Apostolique to rest as international organizations. A North American autocephalous branch of l’Église Gnostique Catholique Apostolique survived under the leadership of Primate Roger Saint-Victor Hérard (Tau Charles), who consecrated a number of bishops but died in 1989 without appointing a successor. Several of Hérard’s bishops are still active in the U.S.

The G.K.K. and the E.G.C.

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) joined Reuss’s O.T.O. as a VII° in 1910 (at the time, any 33 Scottish Rite Mason could join O.T.O. at the VII° level). On June 1, 1912, Crowley received from Reuss the IX° and his appointment as National Grand Master X° for Ireland, Iona, and all the Britains (the British Section of O.T.O. was called Mysteria Mystica Maxima, or M:.M:.M:.), taking the name “Baphomet” as his magical title. The next year, he published the Manifesto of the M:.M:.M:., which includes the “Gnostic Catholic Church” in the list of organizations whose “wisdom and knowledge” are concentrated in O.T.O.

Crowley also wrote Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass, in 1913. Liber XV was first published in 1918 in The International, then again in 1919 in The Equinox, Vol. III, No. 1 (the “Blue Equinox”), finally in 1929/30 in Appendix VI of Magick in Theory and Practice. The Latin name Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.) was coined by Crowley in 1913 when he wrote Liber XV.

In Chapter 73 of Crowley’s Confessions, he states that he wrote the Gnostic Mass as the “Ritual of the Gnostic Catholic Church,” which he prepared “for the use of the O.T.O., the central ceremony of its public and private celebration, corresponding to the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church.” It is evident that Crowley viewed the Gnostic Catholic Church and the O.T.O. as inseparable; particularly with respect to the IX° of O.T.O., into which Crowley had been initiated the year before he wrote the Gnostic Mass, and which is termed the “Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis.”

In 1918, Reuss translated Crowley’s Gnostic Mass into German, making a number of editorial modifications, and published it under the auspices of O.T.O. In his publication of the Gnostic Mass, Reuss listed Bricaud as the Sovereign Patriarch of l’Église Gnostique Universelle, and himself as both the Gnostic Legate to Switzerland for l’Église Gnostique Universelle, and as the Sovereign Patriarch and Primate of Die Gnostische Katholische Kirche, a title which he may have received at the 1908 Paris conference.

Crowley’s Gnostic Mass, despite its many structural similarities to the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, is expressly a Thelemic ritual rather than a Christian one. Reuss’s translation preserved the essentially Thelemic/Gnostic character of the ritual, although it indicates that Reuss’s understanding of Thelema diverged somewhat from Crowley’s. Reuss’s publication of the Gnostic Mass was a significant event for two reasons: it represented the declaration of independence of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica from Église Gnostique Universelle, and it represented the church’s formal acceptance of the Law of Thelema at the highest level.

The Modern E.G.C.

After Reuss, the succession to leadership of the Thelemic Gnostic Catholic Church within O.T.O. passed to his successor as Outer Head of the Order (O.H.O.), Aleister Crowley, whose accession in 1922 restored the original version of the Gnostic Mass. Crowley appears to have celebrated the Gnostic Mass a number of times at his Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù, Sicily. He also made an audio recording of the Gnostic Mass some time during the 1930s, with a singer named Dolores Sillarno singing the lines of the priestess, but only portions of this recording seem to have survived.

It is unclear whether Charles Stansfeld Jones (1886-1950), who served as Grand Master X° for North America under both Reuss and Crowley, ever celebrated the Gnostic Mass as part of his O.T.O. activities. However, one of the members of his Agapé Lodge in Vancouver, British Columbia was a man named Wilfred T. Smith (1887-1957). Smith moved to Southern California in the 1920s, and in 1930, began to assemble an O.T.O. working group in Hollywood. This group began to celebrate the Gnostic Mass on a weekly basis in 1933; and in 1935 the group was chartered as Agapé Lodge (the second O.T.O. Lodge of that name). The next year, Crowley appointed Smith as National Grand Master General X° for the United States. The Gnostic Mass was celebrated every Sunday evening at Agapé Lodge by Smith and priestess Regina Kahl (1891-1945) from 1933 until 1942, when the Lodge moved to a new facility in Pasadena, California (Note 3). Jane Wolfe (1875-1958), who had studied with Crowley personally during the 1920s in Cefalù, assisted Smith and Kahl in developing a standard of performance for the Gnostic Mass, and frequently served as deacon in the ceremony.

Crowley died in 1947, and was succeeded as O.H.O. by Karl Germer (Saturnus, 1885-1962). During Germer’s tenure as O.H.O., the only group regularly celebrating the Gnostic Mass was the Swiss O.T.O. under Hermann Metzger (1919-1990), which began celebrating the Gnostic Mass in the 1950s at its temple in Stein. Germer died in 1962, without naming a successor. The O.T.O. was dormant in the U.S. from 1962 until 1969, when Grady McMurtry (Hymenaeus Alpha, 1918-1985), the last ranking officer of O.T.O. International Headquarters remaining active, exercised emergency powers granted to him in the 1940s by Crowley and acceded to the office of Caliph and O.H.O. of O.T.O. In July of 1977, Hymenaeus Alpha and the members of the newly-revived O.T.O. formally celebrated the Gnostic Mass– the first time in the U.S. since the days of Agapé Lodge.

Unlike the other organizations encompassed by O.T.O., E.G.C. has its own published ritual which could be practiced outside the context of the O.T.O. initiation structure. The Gnostic Mass has its own officers. Although the ritual calls for them to make use of the signs of various O.T.O. degrees, the officers do not have an immediately obvious correlation with O.T.O. degrees. Liber XV also refers to the administration of other sacramental rites such as baptisms, confirmations, marriages and the ordination of clergy. The E.G.C. could, theoretically, operate independently of O.T.O. In 1979, under Hymenaeus Alpha, a non-profit religious corporation independent of O.T.O. was established under the name “Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica.” This was a well-intentioned but short-lived attempt to spread Thelema to a broader audience than it was believed O.T.O. was able to do. The E.G.C. developed its own policies and procedures for baptisms, confirmations and ordinations (which are alluded to in Liber XV), and its own hierarchy of bishops, priests, priestesses, exorcists, novices and deacons– largely based on the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Between Fall 1984 and Fall 1985, the independent E.G.C. produced four numbers of a publication called Ecclesia Gnostica.

Grady McMurtry died in 1985, and in accordance with his wishes, his successor was elected by vote of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis, the IX° membership of the O.T.O. His successor took the magical title Hymenaeus Beta. When Hymenaeus Beta took office, he perceived that the divergence of the paths of E.G.C. and O.T.O. would ultimately be unhealthy for the development of Thelema. The O.T.O. required the focus and open social structure provided by the regular celebration of the Gnostic Mass, and the E.G.C. required the perspective and esoteric teachings of the O.T.O. initiatory system. Hymenaeus Beta dissolved the E.G.C. corporation in 1985, and in 1987, reintegrated the E.G.C. into the O.T.O. by incorporating provisions in the O.T.O. Bylaws specifying that there was to be a class of O.T.O. membership called “Ecclesiastical Membership,” which would consist of the bishops of the E.G.C. Since it was believed at the time that cells of the “Gnostic Catholic Church” existed outside O.T.O., provisions were included in the Bylaws which permitted the bishops of such branches to affiliate with O.T.O. as Ecclesiastical Members upon mutual recognition (Note 4).

The Ecclesiastical Members were allowed to exercise their “traditional” episcopal powers with little interference. The new E.G.C., consisting of the Ecclesiastical Membership of O.T.O., published four numbers of a newsletter called Gnostic Gnews between December 1988 and September 1989.

When the E.G.C. converted from Christianity to Thelema, it ceased to be an institution dedicated to the administration of Christian sacraments. Therefore, a valid Christian apostolic succession was no longer of critical relevance. The traditional apostolic succession may be of some interest and value within the Thelemic E.G.C. as an aspect of the traditions inherited from the pre-Thelemic French Gnostic Church, and as a form of symbolic successorship to the great Christian, Hebraic and Pagan religious systems of the past. However, for a church which purports to represent the Thelemic religion, an “apostolic” or sacerdotal succession from the Prophet of Thelema is far more relevant, in a purely spiritual and theological sense, than a succession from the apostles of the “Pale Galilean.”

However, it was commonly held within the E.G.C. under Hymenaeus Alpha, and for a time under Hymenaeus Beta as well, that a valid traditional apostolic succession would increase the prestige of the E.G.C. and help it to achieve recognition from the civil authorities. Attempts were made to demonstrate that Crowley himself possessed a valid Christian apostolic succession in the Vilatte line through Theodor Reuss (he almost certainly did not), and further attempts were made to strengthen the traditional apostolic succession within E.G.C. by bringing in additional lines of succession from outside sources. Some O.T.O. members were recognized as E.G.C. bishops after receiving consecration from bishops outside the E.G.C.; and certain bishops of other branches of the Gnostic Church were recognized as Ecclesiastical Members of O.T.O. A number of articles on the various putative lines of traditional apostolic succession within E.G.C. were published in the Gnostic Gnews.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on the apostolic succession and the semi-autonomy of the bishops resulted in an erosion of central control. It came to be widely believed that the traditional apostolic succession, which could be passed from one individual to another by the simple laying on of hands, was sufficient to become an E.G.C. bishop. The practical function of the bishops as church administrators and overseers of the rites was becoming overshadowed by the mystique of the apostolic succession; and a number of unqualified individuals were consecrated as “bishops” without the requisite notification or preparation. Then, synchronistically, outside criticism began to raise serious doubts about the technical validity of the traditional apostolic succession current in the E.G.C. Also, with Ecclesiastical Membership limited to bishops, the role of the priests, priestesses and deacons as visible representatives of the E.G.C. was undervalued. A number of priests and priestesses were ordained without so much as having ever attended a Gnostic Mass. The church had reached a crisis of identity; and a fundamental reassessment of its structure, its relationship with O.T.O., the roles of its officers, and the relevance of the traditional apostolic succession and other such residual, pre-Thelemic institutions was in order.

In the Fall of 1990, Hymenaeus Beta suspended the consecration of bishops within E.G.C. until policies could be developed which would establish formal qualifications for Ecclesiastical Membership. This was accomplished in the Fall of 1991 by the adoption of a policy which expanded the definition of Ecclesiastical Membership to include priests, priestesses and deacons, and which required ordained officers of E.G.C. to be initiated members of specified rank within O.T.O. before they would be formally recognized as such by O.T.O. Deacons were required to be at least I° members of O.T.O. and thus full members of the Order; priests and priestesses were required to be initiates of the degree of K.E.W. (which falls between IV° and V°), the first degree in the O.T.O. series to which admission is by invitation only; and bishops were required to be of at least the VII°, which gives them the power to initiate to the K.E.W. degree and thus to ordain priests and priestesses.

In 1993, an outline of a Thelemic baptism ritual, written by Aleister Crowley, was discovered, and has been incorporated into the E.G.C. system. As the liturgical and ministerial wing of Ordo Templi Orientis, the Gnostic Catholic Church continues to develop and evolve with the growth of its membership, the creative input of its officers, and the progressive manifestation of the Thelemic-Gnostic egregore. The process has not been without its difficulties, but, to paraphrase Liber Librae, in trials and troubles is Strength, and by their means is a pathway opened unto the Light.


1.    This essay was originally published in 1995 in “Mystery of Mystery: a Primer of Thelemic Ecclesiastical Gnosticism,” published by J. Edward and Marlene Cornelius as Number 2 of the private Thelemic journal Red Flame.
Several minor errors have been corrected since publication in the Red Flame; notably the following:
– Reuss’s translation of the Gnostic Mass was published in 1918 rather than 1920; and
– the document published about four years after the 1908 Paris Conference was the Manifesto of the M:.M:.M:. rather than the Manifesto of the O.T.O.

2.    The Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church was founded in 1945 by Mgr. Carlos Duarte Costa, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Botacatu, who was excommunicated by the Holy See for having criticized Pope Pius XII for blessing Nazi and Fascist troops in St. Peter’s Square in 1943.(Return)

3.    A rumor was once circulated to the effect that the Gnostic Mass as celebrated at Agapé Lodge included explicit sexual conduct. According to surviving members of Agapé Lodge, the rumor was entirely spurious. The text of Liber XV was followed closely, and the priestess always appeared fully clothed.(Return)

4.    The term was later corrected to “Gnostic Church”. The Gnostic Catholic Church officially ceased to exist outside O.T.O. in 1908, when the name of Église Catholique Gnostique was changed to Église Gnostique Universelle. This clause is now used only for the establishment of amicable relations rather than for conferral of actual episcopal authority in E.G.C.(Return)



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Loving History–Parzifal

Several Extracts from Jordan Stratford’s+ Blog about Definition

10 Steps Toward a Gnostic Communion: A Call for Dialogue

Jordan Stratford+ (from his Blog, April 10, 2005)


It seems to me that the Gnostic Restoration since 1890 has been largely characterized by personality rather than theology. We desperately need a dialogue among the vital contributors of the Restoration: the big G Gnostics, the Theosophists, the Thomasine, Johannite and Primitive Christians, the Thelemites, the Liberal Catholics, the Jungians, the SAW people, the Masons, everybody with a stake and voice.

I would like to offer this analysis as an acting spine of Ecclesiastical Gnosticism through which we may move forward as a greater community.

What is a Gnostic Communion? It would seem that each gathering and Eucharist would be open and flexible enough to recognize that we each to come to gnosis through our own, unique path, and that we each have a point. The points below are not a suggestion of or for orthodoxy, but rather as explorations for common ground, and starting points for a sound debate. What I hope to see in the next decade is something greater than a concordat between Latin Johannites and Haitian Thelemites – but a respecting of territorial Bishops, a sharing of resources, the continued exchange of successions, and a more accessible Ekklesia. Okay and maybe a seminary.

To my mind, a Gnostic Communion would hold to:

1) A superrational, supernatural, superpersonal Divinity

The Big, BIG God model. I subscribe to the idea that any idea of God we can conceive rationally is a kind of idolatry. As Gnostics, we *must* have direct, firsthand experience of how Divinity relates to each of us before we can move forward and share our ideas with the world. This experience *cannot* be academic, or safely contained in language. God is not Yahweh or Osiris or Gaia; each of these are crude caricatures of God. The Pleroma can be Known, but cannot be grasped.

2) The idea of agency and and personal responsibility

a) Tag, you’re it. The Kingdom of God is within you. The Logos is not getting off a plane or manifesting as anybody you’ll see on CNN. Christ is something that happens to you, the anointing of the spark of Divinity within, and giving THAT authority over your life.

b) Gnosticism is NOT initiatory in the traditional sense. I cannot conduct a ritual making you a Gnostic and imparting the secret wisdom of the Gnostics. You have the exclusive ability and obligation to Gnosticize yourself. There are forces at work in the world to prevent this, but there are also forces in the world to enable it.

c) It’s obvious that the agents of the Archons are everywhere – but less obvious about the signals we receive from the Divine. Sophia is everywhere – everywhere, sometimes within the mechanism of the Archons themselves.

3) Ownership of terms (gnosis, pleroma, pneuma, logos)

We really need a strong, solid language as a starting point, and we need to sign off on these terms. What do we mean by Pleroma? I would love to see not just a lexicon (there are a few out there) but a real theological examination of these words in a Gnostic context.

4) Distinction between Ecclesiastical Gnosticism and philosophical “small-g” gnosticism, and a rejection of the idea of neo-gnosticism

Neo-gnosticism means anything a critic wants it to. The term is meaningless, meant to be mildly insulting, and we need to banish it from the radar. If we see an article employing the term, we need to be contacting the authors and asking them to clarify. Gnosis is the birthright of all humanity. GnosticISM is a religion for a few that at its core honours the experience of gnosis.

5) Recognition of our pre-Christian roots

Gnosticism is not an heretical branch of Christianity. We need a critical, objective look our history, its nature and syncretism – and then to be more proactive and less retroactive. What of our pre-Christian roots needs to survive? What needs to be put in the attic?

6) Rejection of literalism (esp. literalist dualism) , fundamentalism, and historical revisionism through iconoclasm, wit, humour, and joy

To my mind the single worst thing that could happen is the development of a Gnostic Fundamentalism, or a claim that Thomas (apostle and/or brother of Jesus) actually wrote Thomas, or that the events of Poimandres happened on a certain Wednesday in Damascus. We cannot be “about” dusty old codices from a jar, but rather a living, breathing religion that asks questions about domestic violence, about poverty, about media and democracy. We must fervently renounce the slanderous label of dualism, and point to how lovingly Gnostic scripture refers to natural forces. We reject the system, not the earth.

7) Communication of our rich cultural heritage

No, The Matrix doesn’t count. We need to read Blake, sponsor a tour of Roerich, publish tranlations of Soloviev. Actually we need a Blake Year.

“Valentinus, Basilides and the Logos walk into a bar…” – why are there no Gnostic jokes?

8) Centralize the purpose of Eucharist in our practice, not the form

Who will be the first to declare their liturgy Open Source? How about a core structure of the Mass, with a more modular approach? Insert your creed here. Regardless, we need stronger, more coherent Gnostic RE to explain what’s going on up there with the little white crackers.

9) Ecumenism, not proselytization

a) No more schisms. Please. Enough with all the schisming. Our tradition holds for independent Bishops – we don’t need a new set of incorporation documents and logos and websites with every ordination.

b) The model is not that of an hierarchical Church, but a non-resident monastery. Clergy serves those who have chosen to show up, by listening, counselling, teaching and cheerleading.

c) Unlike many religious communities in the West, we are growing. Others are disappearing. We need to build a bridge to lapsed Catholics, the Liberal Catholic Tradition, and to Reform Judaism. The latter has a lot to teach us about encoded wisdom, and surviving as a minority religion.

10) Praxis and Caritas

What do we DO, exactly, other than read and pray and argue on listservs? Each Parish needs to dedicate itself to social action by adopting one or two local, on the ground charities. It’s not enough to donate a copy of The Jesus Mysteries to your local library – that’s self-serving. I mean hot meals to elderly shut ins, the animal shelter, clean socks to the homeless. Tithe. Hours if not money. Make it a condition for membership. Nobody does a better job of this than Bishop del Campo’s folks, and they are to be lauded.

There are few enough of us to build rapid consensus and to sign off on something like this in the next ten years.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

10 Things Religious Pundits Need To Know About Gnosticism


“We don’t need to take the Gospel of Judas / Thomas / Mary seriously, because unlike Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, it wasn’t written in the first century, wasn’t written by eyewitnesses and is not historically true. It was written by an elitist world-hating sect called the Gnostics who were rejected by early Christians as heretics. Gnostics preached that the flesh was evil, and salvation was only available to a select few who had secret magical knowledge, or gnosis.”

– Every bible “expert” in the western world in the last three weeks.



I’ve read variations on this spiel at least twenty times this month. The problem is that this summation of Gnosticism is entirely false, and in many cases known by its proponents as false; this is bearing false witness.

1) Gnosticism is not a heretical sect of Christianity

Gnosticism is a distinct, pre-Christian religion. Its roots are in Alexandria in Egypt, about 2200 years ago, where a “café-society” of Greek-speaking and -educated Jews were syncretizing the myths of the ancient world with Judaism and classical Greek philosophy.

These communities and their ideas greatly influenced Christianity as it later emerged. As Christianity struggled in its first four centuries to distinguish itself from the pagan world, it slowly began to reject some of these Gnostic influences. But most of the people who still favoured these ideas considered themselves devout Christians, not heretics.

Let us not forget that the most common topic in the New Testament – more common than the power of love or redemption or the sacrfice of the cross or even the divinity of Jesus – is that “other Christians are getting it wrong”. Paul condemns James as a heretic. Jesus refers to Peter as “Satan”.

2) Gnosticism is a lot like Buddhism

Because of Gnosticism’s insistence on personal responsibility and ethics, its emphasis on singular prayer, the practice of compassion, detachment from materialism and the striving for enlightenment, it has been called “the Buddhism of the West”. The similarities between Gnosticism and Mahayana Buddhism are so strong it has been speculated that there may have been ongoing contact between the two religions.

3) The Gnostic Scriptures are, for the most part, contemporary with Christian canon

None of the four canonical Gospels were written in the first century. Mark was not written by Mark, nor Luke written by Luke. John was written in two distinct phases, the first of which showed significant Gnostic elements, and the latter a retraction and condemnation of those elements. These were based on first century oral traditions which varied greatly from region to region, but did not exist in written form until at least 100 years after the events they describe. Paul is the only first century Christian writer we have, and much of his writings were edited centuries later into the form we have today.

The Gospel of Thomas, for example, is contemporary with the later half of John, and there is some evidence to support that John‘s later editors were familiar with Thomas. The scriptural authors of the second century were reaching for meaning, using their interpretation what they had heard, their intuition, their creativity, and their yearning for G@d.

4) Gnostics do not hate the physical world

Gnostic scripture frequently invokes favourably the beauty and power of the natural world; the symbolism of pregnancy, midwifery, childbirth, newborns, storms and ripe crops are frequently employed by Gnostic authors. Gnostics do not view the flesh as evil, but rather as temporary when contrasted with the immortality of the soul – a view shared by most if not all Christians.

What Gnostics reject is not the earth, but they system: the artificial world of injustice, prejudice, institutionalization and materialism.

5) Gnostics do not repudiate salvation through Grace

The role of Grace, and of the Holy Spirit, is of paramount importance to the Gnostics. Where Gnosticism differs from Christianity is that Gnosticism says that “blind faith” does not grant salvation. To be saved from the forces of deception and ignorance (maya in Buddhist parlance) one must attain enlightenment: the direct experiential intimacy with G@d that is gnosis. This experience is the birthright of every aware human person.

6) Gnosticism is not elitist

Do Christians distinguish between the saved and the unsaved? Is this elitism? Gnostic teachings frequently reinforce the idea that liberation via gnosis is available to everyone; that such distinction is a matter of reclaiming birthright, of intent, choice, and effort. In fact, Gnostic theology tends to support the idea of apokatastasis, of universal salvation.

7) Gnosticism is not Utopian.

There is nothing in Gnostic scripture to support the idea that Gnostics wish to make “heaven on earth” from human efforts, and no connection whatsoever between Gnosticism and the reshaping of society; neither from fascism nor socialism. There is no “immanentizing the eschaton” in Gnosticism: Rather, this idea is the hallmark of millennialist Christianity.

8) Most basic tenets of Gnosticism are supported by Christian scripture

In fact there is a litany of Christian saints who are blatantly Gnostic; St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. Joan of Arc all described in detail the integrity of their experience of gnosis.

Paul says “The Kingdom of G@d is within you” which is probably the best single summation of Gnostic theology. Jesus says “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36).

9) Gnosticism serves as a bridge between world religions

Gnosticism stands at the crossroads of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, representing a common ground. Historically Gnosticism influenced Judaism in the development of Kabala, and Islam in the development of Sufism; it both encouraged and challenged Christianity through its early centuries and contributed profoundly to Christian theology and identity.

10) Gnostic churches are thriving

Gnostics across North America and Europe gather weekly for prayer and Eucharist in forms very similar to orthodox liturgy. We derive inspiration from the Old and New Testaments, and also from Nag Hammadi scripture such as The Gospel of Thomas and The Thunder: Perfect Mind. A vital and growing Gnostic ekklesia is serving in charities, missions and hospitals; writing, crafting, debating and working in coffeehouses and dozens of parishes around the world. Most Gnostics consider themselves Christian, their churches constituting the Body of Christ. Other Gnostics gravitate to the symbolism and traditions of the Divine Feminine in her aspect as Sophia (“wisdom”), the Shekhina (“presence”), and the Holy Spirit.

Despite book-burnings, despite the Albigensian Crusade and the Inquisition, despite schlock-populism, and despite inane castigations from self-appointed pundits, we are still here; still praying, celebrating, exploring, and asking. Still Knowing.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Gnosticism 101


Two thousand years ago, in Northern Egypt, a religious culture existed that embraced early Christianity, Qabalistic Judaism, Roman State Religion, Egyptian Mystery cults, Mithraism, and Greek philosophy. Because this religion emphasized personal revelatory experience and rejected Faith, it was a threat to the conformist orthodoxy which was taking shape in the Christian Church. Gnosticism’s adherents were first ostracized, then persecuted, then slaughtered. But Gnosticism’s ideas speak to a basic truth, and Gnosticism itself resurfaced countless times in the intervening centuries.

– In the beginning, there is only the Pleroma (the “empty fullness”), a state of infinite potential, unity, nothingness, and totality. For the Gnostic, this is God – without gender, personality, or human characteristics. The Pleroma is the Primal Source, and every universe, and the potential for every universe, is an emanation of the Pleroma.

– At some point, the Pleroma conceives of the “something” as opposed to “nothing”. There is a sudden and significant division between these two poles, a fundamental one and zero. As yin and yang, positive and negative, male and female – all Diads are a reflection of these two “magnetic poles of God”.

– These two poles, yearning for the unity of the pre-existing Pleroma, again come together. The result of that union is a daughter, Sophia (“Wisdom”). Sophia is as close as a Gnostic comes to ascribing a human personality to God.

– In one myth, Sophia, jealous of Her parents ability to create, creates in turn Her own children. These children, however, do not contain the spark of the Divine, as they do not come from the Pleroma.

– These children – known as the Archons, or rulers – are a huge problem. They are in turn jealous of their Mother’s ability to create, and they create an entire universe over which to rule. The set themselves up as gods over their creation, but as they are imperfect their creation is flawed, cruel, and grotesque. This is the universe in which we live, and we are their creatures. It is a caricature of the Real World of union with the Pleroma.

– The early part of human history relates to our imprisonment and the injustice of the created world. A critical part of the Archon’s agenda is to hide the truth of the Pleroma from their pawns. The chief of the Archons, the Demiurge, is particularly megalomaniacal and sadistic. He wants the world to worship him as the one true god.

– Sophia discovers the scheme of the Archons and their creation, and is horrified. She returns to the Pleroma and repents for Her error. She then carries a “spark” of Divinity, slips down through the complex hierarchies of the Archons, and conceals a splinter of God into everything and everyone.

– In some traditions, Sophia incarnates as Eve within the garden. Other stories have Her assume the role of Serpent. When the Demiurge appears before Adam and Eve and declares “There is no God but me”, Sophia reveals Her True Self and states “You are wrong!” and shames Her monstrous offspring.

– Things start to get paranoid here. A small number of the Archons realize their error, and wish to return with Sophia to the Pleroma. She commands that they remain in their creation to act secretly as her agents, and encourage the spark in humanity.

– Christian Gnostics subscribe to the tradition which implies that Sophia is thereafter trapped in the created world and separated from the Pleroma. One aspect of the Pleroma, the Logos (“Word”) is sent down through the Archons to rescue Her. The Logos is incarnated as Jesus, and his mission is to awaken the spark of God among humankind in order to generate a kind of “critical mass” of Divinity. The idea is that this would function as a kind of rocket fuel to return both the Logos and Sophia to the Pleroma. Some traditions state that this was successful, others not.

– Where this leaves us, as Gnostics, is to kindle the inner spark in order to escape the cruelty of the Demiurge and his agents, and light the way home to Divinity. This awakening is called gnosis (“knowledge” – spiritual enlightenment), a first-hand certainty of their relationship with the divine. This also involves a rejection of faith, and of third-party salvation. The Gnostic must personally negotiate with the Archons, and debate, argue, and define the nature of that relationship.

– I’ve never met a Gnostic who feels this is anything other than a metaphor, a powerful and transformative myth. But it does describe an almost universal sense of “this is not the deal”, that the SYSTEM (“kosmos”) of time, decay, disease, ignorance, jealousy, pettiness – does not reflect the “true” world, and that the god in charge of this creation must be cruel, insane, or both.

– Gnostics tend to come in one of three main varieties: Christian (about 70%), Hermetic (about 25%) and Sophianic (5%).

– The main sources for Gnostic thought, written between 200 BCE and 200 CE, were narrowly circulated, and hidden from mainstream or orthodox authorities. A large collection of these texts, the Nag Hammadi library, was unearthed in 1945. Among these is the Christian Gospel of Thomas, believed by many biblical scholars to be the oldest and most accurate account of the real teachings of Jesus.

– Hermetic Gnostics study the writings of the semi-mythical Hermes Trimegistus, an Egyptian priest (actually a nom-de-plume for up to a dozen philosophers over a few centuries). It is the discipline of magic, of alchemy and metaphysics, the “yoga of the west”. The renaissance humanists, the Rosicrucians and early Freemasons were of these.

– Sophian Gnostics hold the idea of the Divine Feminine, inherent in the world and advocating for our enlightenment. She is the Queen of Heaven, Holy Wisdom, the Celestial Bride. Similarly, the Magdalene is also a central figure as an aspect of Sophia, as is the Egyptian goddess Aset, more commonly known as Isis.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Gnosticism 102

The myth from the previous post explains the setup, but it has very little bearing on human experience. What follows is sometimes called “The Gnostic Road”, and relates to the personal process of becoming a Gnostic.

1) Aporia (“roadlessness”). A feeling of disorientation or exclusion from the accepted conventions of the world, and a sense that “this is not the deal”. The certainty that something is wrong with the universe, and creeping paranoia that a) this is not the real world and b) that the forces in charge of this world are hiding something secret, something powerful.

2) Epiphany (“shining above”). The big light bulb over the head, the primal “Aha!” that reveals the glowing spark of divinity in all things. A perception of real and immediate and undeniable TRUTH in art and life and joy and beauty and the sacred real.

3)Agon (“struggle”). This is where things get ugly. The problem is, the Opposition is real, organized, and thoroughly pissed off at your recent epiphany. You’re suddenly a lightning rod for “bad luck” in the form of THE SYSTEM – parking tickets, tax audits, bank charges, mechanical failures, illness, miscommunication. People are “worried about you”. This is where most people either give up and deny their epiphany, or go crazy and talk to themselves on the bus.

The real struggle is in finding equilibrium – knowing what you know, and continuing to live in the world. Rendering unto Caesar. Sitting down with the Archons and negotiating some kind of truce.

4) Gnosis (“knowledge”). Equivalent to the satori of Zen or the nirvana of Hinduism, this is personally-negotiated spiritual enlightenment. A first-hand experience of divinity as real and present. Tag, you’re it.

5) Charis (“grace”). This is Sainthood, the ability to radiate your own gnosis to others, and overcome the limitations imposed on you by the Archons.

Ah, light in the darkness of discernment–Parzifal

Sheldrake gives a new focus on Jung!

Mind, Memory and Archetype, Part I

by Rupert Sheldrake

Morphic Fields: The Collective Unconscious

In this essay, I am going to discuss the concept of collective memory as a background for understanding Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious only makes sense in the context of some notion of collective memory. This then takes us into a very wide-ranging examination of the nature and principle of memory-not just in human beings and not just in the animal kingdom; not even just in the realm of life-but in the universe as a whole. Such an encompassing perspective is part of a very profound paradigm shift that is taking place in science: the shift from the mechanistic to an evolutionary and wholistic world view.

The Cartesian mechanistic view is, in many ways, still the predominant paradigm today, especially in biology and medicine. Ninety percent of biologists would be proud to tell you that they are mechanistic biologists. Although physics has moved beyond the mechanistic view, much of our thinking about physical reality is still shaped by it-even in those of us who would like to believe that we have moved beyond this frame of thought. Therefore, I will briefly examine some of the fundamental assumptions of the mechanistic world view in order to show how it is still deeply embedded in the way that most of us think.


It is interesting that the roots of the 17th-century mechanistic world view can be found in ancient mystical religion. Indeed, the mechanistic view was a synthesis of two traditions of thought, both of which were based on the mystical insight that reality is timeless and changeless. One of these traditions stems from Pythagoras and Plato, who were both fascinated by the eternal truths of mathematics. In the 17th century, this evolved into a view that nature was governed by timeless ideas, proportions, principles, or laws that existed within the mind of God. This world view became dominant and, through philosophers and scientists such as Copernicus, Kepler, Descartes, Galileo and Newton, it was incorporated into the foundations of modern physics.

Basically, they expressed the idea that numbers, proportions, equations, and mathematical principles are more real than the physical world we experience. Even today, many mathematicians incline toward this kind of Pythagorean or Platonic mysticism. They think of the physical world as a reification of mathematical principles, as a reflection of eternal numerical mathematical laws. This view is alien to the thinking of most of us, who the physical world as the “real” world and consider mathematical equations a man-made, and possibly inaccurate, description of that “real” world. Nevertheless, this mystical view has evolved into the currently predominant scientific viewpoint that nature is governed by eternal, changeless, immutable, omnipresent laws. The laws of nature are everywhere and always.


The second view of changelessness which emerged in the 17th century stemmed from the atomistic tradition of materialism, which addressed an issue which, even then, was already deep-rooted in Greek thought: namely, the concept of a changeless reality. Parmenides, a pre-Socratic philosopher, had the idea that only being is; not-being is not. If something is, it can’t change because, in order to change, it would have to combine being and not-being, which was impossible. Therefore,. he concluded that reality is a homogenous, changeless sphere. Unfortunately for Parmenides, the world we experience is not homogenous, changeless, or spherical. In order to preserve his theory, Parmenides claimed that the world we experience is a delusion. This wasn’t a very satisfactory solution, and thinkers of the time tried to find a way to resolve this dilemma.

The atomists’ solution was to claim that reality consists of a large number of homogenous, changeless spheres (or particles): the atoms. Instead of one big changeless sphere, there are a great many small, changeless spheres moving in the void. The changing appearances of the world could then be explained in terms of the movements, permutations, and combinations of the atoms. This is the original insight of materialism: that reality consisted of eternal atomic matter and the movement of matter.

The combination of this materialistic tradition with the Platonic tradition finally gave rise to the mechanical philosophy which emerged in the 17th century and produced a cosmic dualism that has been with us ever since. On the one hand we have eternal atoms of inert matter; and on the other hand, we have changeless, non-material laws which are more like ideas than physical, material things. In this kind of dualism, both sides are changeless-a belief that does not readily suggest the idea of an evolutionary universe. In fact, physicists have been very adverse to accepting the idea of evolution precisely because it fits so poorly with the notion of eternal matter and changeless laws. In modern physics, matter is now seen as a form of energy; eternal energy has replaced eternal matter, but little else has changed.


Nevertheless, the evolutionary paradigm has been gaining ground steadily for the past two centuries. In the 18th century, social, artistic, and scientific developments were generally viewed as a progressive and evolutionary process. The Industrial Revolution made this viewpoint an economic reality in parts of Europe and America. By the early 19th century there were a number of evolutionary philosophies and, by the 1840’s, the evolutionary social theory of Marxism had been publicized. In this context of social and cultural evolutionary theory, Darwin proposed his biological theory of evolution which extended the evolutionary vision to the whole of life. Yet this vision was not extended to the entire universe: Darwin and the neo-Darwinians ironically tried to fit the evolution of life on earth into a static universe, or even worse, a universe which was actually thought to be “running down” thermodynamically, heading toward a “heat death.”

Everything changed in 1966 when physics finally accepted an evolutionary cosmology in which the universe was no longer eternal. Instead, the universe originated in a Big Bang about 15 billion years ago and has evolved ever since. So we now have an evolutionary physics. But we have to remember that this evolutionary physics is only just over 20 years old, and the implications and consequences of the Big Bang discovery are not yet fully known.

Physics is only just beginning to adapt itself to this new view, which, as we have seen, challenges the most fundamental assumption of physics since the time of Pythagoras: the idea of eternal laws. As soon as we have an evolving universe, we are confronted with the question: what about the eternal laws of nature? Where were the laws of nature before the Big Bang? If the laws of nature existed before the Big Bang, then it’s clear that they are nonphysical; in fact, they are metaphysical. This forces out into the open the metaphysical assumption that underlay the idea of eternal laws all along.


There is an alternative, however. The alternative is that the universe is more like an organism than a machine. The Big Bang recalls the mythic stories of the hatching of the cosmic egg: it grows, and as it grows it undergoes an internal differentiation that is more like a gigantic cosmic embryo than the huge eternal machine of mechanistic theory. With this organic alternative, it might make sense to think of the laws of nature as more like habits; perhaps the laws of nature are habits of the universe, and perhaps the universe has an in-built memory.

About 100 years ago the American philosopher, C. S. Pierce, said that if we took evolution seriously, if we thought of the entire universe as evolving, then we would have to think of the laws of nature as somehow likened to habits. This idea was actually quite common, especially in America; it was espoused by William James and other American philosophers, and was quite widely discussed at the end of the last century. In Germany, Nietzsche went so far as to suggest that the laws of nature underwent natural selection: perhaps there were many laws of nature at the beginning, but only the successful laws survived; therefore, the universe we see has laws which have evolved through natural selection.

Biologists also moved toward interpreting phenomena in terms of habit. The most interesting such theorist was English writer Samuel Butler, whose most important books on this theme were Life and Habit (1878) and Unconscious Memory (1881). Butler contended that the whole of life involved inherent unconscious memory; habits, the instincts of animals, the way in which embryos develop, all reflected a basic principle of inherent memory within life. He even proposed that there must be an inherent memory in atoms, molecules, and crystals. Thus, there was this period of time at the end of the last century when biology was viewed in evolutionary terms. It is only since the 1920’s that mechanistic thinking has come to have a stranglehold upon biological thought.


The hypothesis of formative causation, which is the basis of my own work, starts from the problem of biological form. Within biology, there has been a long-standing discussion of how to understand the way embryos and organisms develop. How do plants grow from seeds? How do embryos develop from fertilized eggs? This is a problem for biologists; it’s not really a problem for embryos and trees, which just do it! However, biologists rind it difficult to find a causal explanation for form. In physics, in some sense the cause equals the effect. The amount of energy, matter, and momentum before a given change equals the amount afterwards. The cause is contained in the effect and the effect in the cause. However, when we are considering the growth of an oak tree from an acorn, there seems to be no such equivalence of cause and effect in any obvious way.

In the 17th century, the main mechanistic theory of embryology was simply that the oak tree was contained within the acorn: inside each acorn there was a miniature oak tree which inflated as the oak tree grew. This theory was quite widely accepted, and it was the one most consistent with the mechanistic approach, as understood at that time. However, as critics rapidly pointed out, if the oak tree is inflated and that oak tree itself produces acorns, the inflatable oak tree must contain inflatable acorns which contain inflatable oak trees, ad infinitum.

If, on the other hand, more form came from less form (the technical name for which is epigenesis), then where does the more form come from?

How did structures appear that weren’t there before? Neither Platonists nor Aristotelians had any problem with this question. The Platonists said that the form comes from the Platonic archetype: if there is an oak tree, then there is an archetypal form of an oak tree, and all actual oak trees are simply reflections of this archetype. Since this archetype is beyond space and time, there is no need to have it embedded in the physical form of the acorn. The Aristotelians said that every species has its own kind of soul, and the soul is the form of the body. The body is in the soul, not the soul in the body. The soul is the form of the body and is around the body and contains the goal of development (which is formally called entelechy). An oak tree soul contains the eventual oak tree.


However, a mechanistic world view denies animism in all its forms; it denies the existence of the soul and of any non-material organizing principles. Therefore, mechanists have to have some kind of preformationism. At the end of the 19th century, German biologist August Weismann’s theory of the germ-plasm revived the idea of preformationism; Weissman’s theory placed “determinants,” which supposedly gave rise to the organism, inside the embryo. This is the ancestor of the present idea of genetic programming, which constitutes another resurgence of preformationism in a modern guise.

As we will see, this model does not work very well. The genetic program is assumed to be identical with DNA, the genetic chemical. The genetic information is coded in DNA and this code forms the genetic program. But such a leap requires projecting onto DNA properties that it does not actually possess. We know what, DNA does: it codes for proteins; it codes for the sequence of amino acids which form proteins. However, there is a big difference between coding for the structure of a protein-a chemical constituent of the organism-and programming the development of an entire organism. It is the difference between making bricks and building a house out of the bricks. You need the bricks to build the house. If you have defective bricks, the house will be defective. But the plan of the house is not contained in the bricks, or the wires, or the beams, or cement.

Analogously, DNA only codes for the materials from which the body is constructed: the enzymes, the structural proteins, and so forth. There is no evidence that it also codes for the plan, the form, the morphology of the body. To see this more clearly, think of your arms and legs. The form of the arms and legs is different; it’s obvious that they have a different shape from each other. Yet the chemicals in the arms and legs are identical. The muscles are the same, the nerve cells are the same, the skin cells are the same, and the DNA is the same in all the cells of the arms and legs. In fact, the DNA is the same in all the cells of the body. DNA alone cannot explain the difference inform; something else is necessary to explain form.

In current mechanistic biology, this is usually assumed to depend on what are called “complex patterns of physio-chemical interaction not yet fully understood.” Thus the current mechanistic theory is not an explanation but merely the promise of an explanation. It is what Sir Karl Popper has called a “promissory mechanism”; it involves issuing promissory notes against future explanations that do not yet exist. As such, it is not really an objective argument; it is merely a statement of faith.


The question of biological development, of morphogenesis, is actually quite open and is the subject of much debate within biology itself. An alternative to the mechanist/reductionist approach, which has been around since the 1920s, is the idea of morphogenetic (form-shaping) fields. In this model, growing organisms are shaped by fields which are both within and around them, fields which contain, as it were, the form of the organism. This is closer to the Aristotelian tradition than to any of the other traditional approaches. As an oak tree develops, the acorn is associated with an oak tree field, an invisible organizing structure which organizes the oak tree’s development; it is like an oak tree mold, within which the developing organism grows.

One fact which led to the development of this theory is the remarkable ability organisms have to repair damage. If you cut an oak tree into little pieces, each little piece, properly treated, can grow into a new tree. So from a tiny fragment, you can get a whole. Machines do not do that; they do not have this power of remaining whole if you remove parts of them. Chop a computer up into small pieces and all you get is a broken computer. It does not regenerate into lots of little computers. But if you chop a flatworm into small pieces, each piece can grow into a new flatworm. Another analogy is a magnet. If you chop a magnet into small pieces, you do have lots of small magnets, each with a complete magnetic field. This is a wholistic property that fields have that mechanical systems do not have unless they are associated with fields. Still another example is the hologram, any part of which contains the whole. A hologram is based on interference patterns within the electromagnetic field. Fields thus have a wholistic property which was very attractive to the biologists who developed this concept of morphogenetic fields.

Each species has its own fields, and within each organism there are fields within fields. Within each of us is the field of the whole body; fields for arms and legs and fields for kidneys and livers; within are fields for the different tissues inside these organs, and then fields for the cells, and fields for the sub-cellular structures, and fields for the molecules, and so on. There is a whole series of fields within fields. The essence of the hypothesis I am proposing is that these fields, which are already accepted quite widely within biology, have a kind of in-built memory derived from previous forms of a similar kind. The liver field is shaped by the forms of previous livers and the oak tree field by the forms and organization of previous oak trees. Through the fields, by a process called morphic resonance, the influence of like upon like, there is a connection among similar fields. That means that the field’s structure has a cumulative memory, based on what has happened to the species in the past. This idea applies not only to living organisms but also to protein molecules, crystals, even to atoms. In the realm of crystals, for example, the theory would say that the form a crystal takes depends on its characteristic morphic field. Morphic field is a broader term which includes the fields of both form and behavior; hereafter, I shall use the word morphic field rather than morphogenetic.


If you make a new compound and crystallize it, there won’t be a morphic field for it the first time. Therefore, it may be very difficult to crystallize; you have to wait for a morphic field to emerge. The second time, however, even if you do this somewhere else in the world, there will be an influence from the first crystallization, and it should crystallize a bit more easily. The third time there will be an influence from the first and second, and so on. There will be a cumulative influence from previous crystals, so it should get easier and easier to crystallize the more often you crystallize it. And, in fact, this is exactly what does happen. Synthetic chemists find that new compounds are generally very difficult to crystallize. As time goes on, they generally get easier to crystallize all over the world. The conventional explanation is that this occurs because fragments of previous crystals are carried from laboratory to laboratory on beards of migrant chemists. When there have not been any migrant chemists, it is assumed that the fragments wafted through the atmosphere as microscopic dust particles.

Perhaps migrant chemists do carry fragments on their beards and perhaps dust particles do get blown around in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, if one measures the rate of crystallization under rigorously controlled conditions in sealed vessels in different parts of the world, one should still observe an accelerated rate of crystallization. This experiment has not yet been done. But a related experiment involving chemical reaction rates of new synthetic processes is at present being considered by a major chemical company in Britain because, if these things happen, they have quite important implications for the chemical industry.


There are quite a number of experiments that can be done in the realm of biological form and the development of form. Correspondingly, the same principles apply to behavior, forms of behavior and patterns of behavior. Consider the hypothesis that if you train rats to learn a new trick in Santa Barbara, then rats all over the world should be able to learn to do the same trick more quickly, just because the rats in Santa Barbara have learned it. This new pattern of learning will be, as it were, in the rat collective memory-in the morphic fields of rats, to which other rats can tune in, just because they are rats and just because they are in similar circumstances, by morphic resonance. This may seem a bit improbable, but either this sort of thing happens or it doesn’t.

Among the vast number of papers in the archives of experiments on rat psychology, there are a number of examples of experiments in which people have actually monitored rates of learning over time and discovered mysterious increases. In my book, A New Science of Life, I describe one such series of experiments which extended over a 50-year period. Begun at Harvard and then carried on in Scotland and Australia, the experiment demonstrated that rats increased their rate of learning more than tenfold. This was a huge effect-not some marginal statistically significant result. This improved rate of learning in identical learning situations occurred in these three separate locations and in all rats of the breed, not just in rats descended from trained parents.

There are other examples of the spontaneous spread of new habits in animals and birds which provide at least circumstantial evidence for the theory of morphic resonance. The best documented of these is the behavior of bluetits, a rather small bird with a blue head, that is common throughout Britain. Fresh milk is still delivered to the door each morning in Britain. Until about the 1950s, the caps on the milk bottles were made of cardboard. In 1921 in Southampton, a strange phenomenon was observed. When people came out in the morning to get their milk bottles, they found little shreds of cardboard all around the bottom of the bottle, and the cream from the top of the bottle had disappeared. Close observation revealed that this was being done by bluetits, who sat on top of the bottle, pulled off the cardboard with their beaks, and then drank the cream. Several tragic cases were found in which bluetits were discovered drowned head first in the milk!

This incident caused considerable interest; then the event turned up somewhere else in Britain, about 50 miles away, and then somewhere about 100 miles away. Whenever the bluetit phenomenon turned up, it started spreading locally, presumably by imitation. However, bluetits are very home-loving creatures, and they don’t normally travel more than four or five miles. Therefore, the dissemination of the behavior over large distances could only be accounted for in terms of an independent discovery of the habit. The bluetit habit was mapped throughout Britain until 1947, by which time it had become more or less universal. The people who did the study came to the conclusion that it must have been “invented” independently at least 50 times. Moreover, the rate of spread of the habit accelerated as time went on. In other parts of Europe where milk bottles are delivered to doorsteps, such as Scandinavia and Holland, the habit also cropped up during the 1930s and spread in a similar manner. Here is an example of a pattern of behavior which was spread in a way which seemed to speed up with time, and which might provide an example of morphic resonance.

But there is still stronger evidence for morphic resonance. Because of the German occupation of Holland, milk delivery ceased during 1939-40. Milk deliveries did not resume until 1948. Since bluetits usually live only two to three years, there probably were no bluetits alive in 1948 who had been alive when milk was last delivered. Yet when milk deliveries resumed in 1948, the opening of milk bottles by bluetits sprang up rapidly in quite separate places in Holland and spread extremely rapidly until, within a year or two, it was once again universal. The behavior spread much more rapidly and cropped up independently much more frequently the second time round than the first time. This example demonstrates the evolutionary spread of a new habit which is probably not genetic but rather depends on a kind of collective memory due to morphic resonance.

I am suggesting that heredity depends not only on DNA, which enables organisms to build the right chemical building blocks-the proteins-but also on morphic resonance. Heredity thus has two aspects: one a genetic heredity, which accounts for the inheritance of proteins through DNA’s control of protein synthesis; the second a form of heredity based on morphic fields and morphic resonance, which is nongenetic and which is inherited directly from past members of the species. This latter form of heredity deals with the organization of form and behavior.

New Theory of Evolution


The differences and connections between these two forms of heredity become easier to understand if we consider an analogy to television. Think of the pictures on the screen as the form that we are interested in.

If you didn’t know how the form arose, the most obvious explanation would be that there were little people inside the set whose shadows you were seeing on the screen. Children sometimes think in this manner. If you take the back off the set, however, and look inside, you find that there are no little people. Then you might get more subtle and speculate that the little people are microscopic and are actually inside the wires of the TV set. But if you look at the wires through a microscope, you can’t find any little people there either.

You might get still more subtle and propose that the little people on the screen actually arise through “complex interactions among the parts of the set which are not yet fully understood.” You might think this theory was proved if you chopped out a few transistors from the set. The people would disappear. If you put the transistors back, they would reappear. This might provide convincing evidence that they arose from within the set entirely on the basis of internal interaction.

Suppose that someone suggested that the pictures of little people come from outside the set, and the set picks up the pictures as a result of invisible vibrations to which the set is attuned. This would probably sound like a very occult and mystical explanation. You might deny that anything is coming into the set. You could even “prove it” by weighing the set switched off and switched on; it would weigh the same. Therefore, you could conclude that nothing is coming into the set.

I think that is the position of modern biology, trying to explain everything in terms of what happens inside. The more explanations for form are looked for inside, the more elusive the explanations prove to be, and the more they are ascribed to ever more subtle and complex interactions, which always elude investigation. As I am suggesting, the forms and patterns of behavior are actually being tuned into by invisible connections arising outside the organism. The development of form is a result of both the internal organization of the organism and the interaction of the morphic fields to which it is tuned.

Genetic mutations can affect this development. Again think of the TV set. If we mutate a transistor or a condenser inside the set, you may get distorted pictures or sound. But this does not prove that the pictures and sound are programmed by these components. Nor does it prove that form and behavior are programmed by genes, if we find there are alterations in form and behavior as a result of genetic mutation.

There is another kind of mutation which is particularly interesting. Imagine a mutation in the tuning circuit of your set, such that it alters the resonant frequency of the tuning circuit. Tuning your TV depends on a resonant phenomenon; the tuner resonates at the same frequency as the frequency of the signal transmitted by the different stations. Thus tuning dials are measured in hertz, which is a measure of frequency. Imagine a mutation in the tuning system such that you tune to one channel and a different channel actually appears. You might trace this back to a single condenser or a single resistor which had undergone a mutation. But it would not be valid to conclude that the new programs you are seeing, the different people, the different films and advertisements, are programmed inside the component that has changed. Nor does it prove that form and behavior are programmed in the DNA when genetic mutations lead to changes in form and behavior. The usual assumption is that if you can show something alters as a result of a mutation, then that must be programmed by, or controlled by, or determined by, the gene. I hope this TV analogy makes it clear that that is not the only conclusion. It could be that it is simply affecting the tuning system.


A great deal of work is being done in contemporary biological research on such “tuning” mutations (formally called homoeotic mutations). The animal most used in the investigations is Drosophila, the fruitfly. A whole range of these mutations have been found which produce various monstrosities. One kind, called antennapedia, leads to the antennae being transformed into legs. The unfortunate flies, which contain just one altered gene, produce legs instead of antennae growing out of their heads. There is another mutation which leads to the second of the three pairs of legs in the Drosophila being transformed into antennae. Normally flies have one pair of wings and, on the segment behind the wings, are small balancing organs called halteres. Still another mutation leads to the transformation of the segment normally bearing the halteres into a duplicate of the first segment, so that these flies have four wings instead of two. These are called bithorax mutants.

All of these mutations depend on single genes. I propose that somehow these single gene mutations are changing the tuning of a part of the embryonic tissue, such that it tunes into a different morphic field than it normally does, and so a different set of structures arise, just like tuning into a different channel on TV.

One can see from these analogies how both genetics and morphic resonance are involved in heredity. Of course, a new theory of heredity leads to a new theory of evolution. Present-day evolutionary theory is based on the assumption that virtually all heredity is genetic. Sociobiology and neo-Darwinism in all their various forms are based on gene selection, gene frequencies, and so forth. The theory of morphic resonance leads to a much broader view which allows one of the great heresies of biology once more to be taken seriously: namely, the idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Behaviors which organisms learn, or forms which they develop, can be inherited by others even if they are not descended from the original organisms-by morphic resonance.


When we consider memory, this hypothesis leads to a very different approach from the traditional one. The key concept of morphic resonance is that similar things influence similar things across both space and time. The amount of influence depends on the degree of similarity. Most organisms are more similar to themselves in the past than they are to any other organism. I am more like me five minutes ago than I am like any of you; all of us are more like ourselves in the past than like anyone else. The same is true of any organism. This self-resonance with past states of the same organism in the realm of form helps to stabilize the morphogenetic fields, to stabilize the form of the organism, even though the chemical constituents in the cells are turning over and changing.

Habitual patterns of behavior are also tuned into by the self-resonance process. If I start riding a bicycle, for example, the pattern of activity of my nervous system and my muscles, in response to balancing on the bicycle, immediately tunes me in by similarity to all the previous occasions on which I have ridden a bicycle. The experience of bicycle riding is given by cumulative morphic resonance to all those past occasions. It is not a verbal or intellectual memory; it is a body memory of riding a bicycle.

This would also apply to my memory of actual events: what I did yesterday in Los Angeles or last year in England. When, I think of these particular events, I am tuning into the occasions on which these events happened. There is a direct causal connection through a tuning process. If this hypothesis is correct, it is not necessary to assume that memories are stored inside the brain.


All of us have been brought up on the idea that memories are stored in the brain; we use the word brain interchangeably with mind or memory. I am suggesting that the brain is more like a tuning system than a memory storage device. One of the main arguments for the localization of memory in the brain is the fact that certain kinds of brain damage can lead to loss of memory. If the brain is damaged in a car accident and someone loses memory, then the obvious assumption is that memory tissue must have been destroyed. But this is not necessarily so.

Consider the TV analogy again. If I damaged your TV set so that you were unable to receive certain channels, or if I made the TV set aphasic by destroying the part of it concerned with the production of sound so that you could still get the pictures but could not get the sound, this would not prove that the sound or the pictures were stored inside the TV set. It would merely show that I had affected the tuning system so you could not pick up the correct signal any longer. No more does memory loss due to brain damage prove that memory is stored inside the brain. In fact, most memory loss is temporary: amnesia following concussion, for example, is often temporary. This recovery of memory is very difficult to explain in terms of conventional theories: if the memories have been destroyed because the memory tissue has been destroyed, they ought not to come back again; yet they often do.

Another argument for the localization of memory inside the brain is suggested by the experiments on electrical stimulation of the brain by Wilder Penfield and others. Penfield stimulated the temporal lobes of the brains of epileptic patients and found that some of these stimuli could elicit vivid responses, which the patients interpreted as memories of things they had done in the past. Penfield assumed that he was actually stimulating memories which were stored in the cortex. Again returning to the TV analogy, if I stimulated the tuning circuit of your TV set and it jumped onto another channel, this wouldn’t prove the information was stored inside the tuning circuit. It is interesting that, in his last book, The Mystery of the Mind, Penfield himself abandoned the idea that the experiments proved that memory was inside the brain. He came to the conclusion that memory was not stored inside the cortex at all.

There have been many attempts to locate memory traces within the brain, the best known of which were by Karl Lashley, the great American neurophysiologist. He trained rats to learn tricks, then chopped bits of their brains out to determine whether the rats could still do the tricks. To his amazement, he found that he could remove over fifty percent of the brain-any 50%-and there would be virtually no effect on the retention of this learning. When he removed all the brain, the rats could no longer perform the tricks, so he concluded that the brain was necessary in some way to the performance of the task-which is hardly a very surprising conclusion. What was surprising was how much of the brain he could remove without affecting the memory.

Similar results have been found by other investigators, even with invertebrates such as the octopus. This led one experimenter to speculate that memory was both everywhere and nowhere in particular. Lashley himself concluded that memories are stored in a distributed manner throughout the brain, since he could not find the memory traces which classical theory required. His student, Karl Pribram, extended this idea with the holographic theory of memory storage: memory is like a holographic image, stored as an interference pattern throughout the brain.

What Lashley and Pribram (at least in some of his writing) do not seem to have considered is the possibility that memories may not be stored inside the brain at all. The idea that they are not stored inside the brain is more consistent with the available data than either the conventional theories or the holographic theory. Many difficulties have arisen in trying to localize memory storage in the brain, in part because the brain is much more dynamic than previously thought. If the brain is to serve as a memory storehouse, then the storage system would have to remain stable; yet it is now known that nerve cells turn over much more rapidly than was previously thought. All the chemicals in synapses and nerve structures and molecules are turning over and changing all the time. With a very dynamic brain, it is difficult to see how memories are stored.

There is also a logical problem about conventional theories of memory storage, which various philosophers have pointed out. All conventional theories assume that memories are somehow coded and located in a memory store in the brain. When they are needed they are recovered by a retrieval system. This is called the coding, storage, and retrieval model. However, for a retrieval system to retrieve anything, it has to know what it wants to retrieve; a memory retrieval system has to know what memory it is looking for. It thus must be able to recognize the memory that it is trying to retrieve. In order to recognize it, the retrieval system itself must have some kind of memory. Therefore, the retrieval system must have a sub-retrieval system to retrieve its memories from its store. This leads to an infinite regress. Several philosophers argue that this is a fatal, logical flaw in any conventional theory of memory storage. However, on the whole, memory theoreticians are not very interested in what philosophers say, so they do not bother to reply to this argument. But it does seem to me quite a powerful one.

In considering the morphic resonance theory of memory, we might ask: if we tune into our own memories, then why don’t we tune into other people’s as well? I think we do, and the whole basis of the approach I am suggesting is that there is a collective memory to which we are all tuned which forms a background against which our own experience develops and against which our own individual memories develop. This concept is very similar to the notion of the collective unconscious.

Jung thought of the collective unconscious as a collective memory, the collective memory of humanity. He thought that people would be more tuned into members of their own family and race and social and cultural group, but that nevertheless there would be a background resonance from all humanity: a pooled or averaged experience of basic things that all people experience (e.g., maternal behavior and various social patterns and structures of experience and thought). It would not be a memory from particular persons in the past so much as an average of the basic forms of memory structures; these are the archetypes. Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious makes extremely good sense in the context of the general approach that I am putting forward. Morphic resonance theory would lead to a radical reaffirmation of Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious.

It needs reaffirmation because the current mechanistic context of conventional biology, medicine, and psychology denies that there can be any such thing as the collective unconscious; the concept of a collective memory of a race or species has been excluded as even a theoretical possibility. You cannot have any inheritance of acquired characteristics according to conventional theory; you can only have an inheritance of genetic mutations.

Under the premises of conventional biology, there would be no way that the experiences and myths of, for example, African tribes, would have any influence on the dreams of someone in Switzerland of non-African descent, which is the sort of thing Jung thought did happen. That is quite impossible from the conventional point of view, which is why most biologists and others within mainstream science do not take the idea of the collective unconscious seriously. It is considered a flaky, fringe idea that may have some poetic value as a kind of metaphor, but has no relevance to proper science because it is a completely untenable concept from the point of view of normal biology.

The approach I am putting forward is very similar to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious. The main difference is that Jung’s idea was applied primarily to human experience and human collective memory. What I am suggesting is that a very similar principle operates throughout the entire universe, not just in human beings. If the kind of radical paradigm shift I am talking about goes on within biology-if the hypothesis of morphic resonance is even approximately correct-then Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious would become a mainstream idea: Morphogenic fields and the concept of the collective unconscious would completely change the context of modern psychology.
Mind, Memory and Archetype Part II

Mind, Memory and Archetype Part III

© 1995 – 2003 Rupert Sheldrake. All rights reserved.

Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (1999), a sequel to his best-selling Seven Experiments that Could Change the World (1994).

His most recent book is The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (Hutchinson 2003).

He lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in South India, where he wrote A New Science of Life (Blond and Briggs, 1981). He is also the author of The Presence of the Past (Collins 1988), The Rebirth of Nature (Century, 1990),Trialogues at the Edge of the West with Ralph Abraham and Terence McKenna, (Bear and Co., 1992) and The Evolutionary Mind (Trialogue Press, 1998). His book Seven Experiments that Could Change the World (Fourth Estate, 1994) was voted Book of the Year by the British Institute for Social Inventions.

With Matthew Fox, he is the author of Natural Grace: Dialogues on Science and Spirituality (Bloomsbury, 1996) and The Physics of Angels (Harper Collins, 1996). His book Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (Hutchinson) was published in September 1999, and won the British Scientific and Medical Network Book of the Year Award. In July 2000 he was the H. Burr Steinbach visiting scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts.  His most recent book is The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (Hutchinson 2003). He is currently a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, San Francisco. Rupert lives in Hampstead, London, England with his wife, Jill Purce and their two sons. Jill is the pioneer of the international sound healing movement. Website: Jill Purce.

Rupert’s website includes articles, research and ongoing research the public can participate in, a free e-newsletter, a cool glossary with definitions of such terms as: dialectical materialism, entelechy, evolution and teleonomy and much

Mind, Memory & Archetype, Part II

by Rupert Sheldrake

Society As Superorganism

Rupert Sheldrake is a theoretical biologist whose book, “A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation”, continues to evoke a storm of controversy.

Following is the second in a series of articles wherein Sheldrake presents his ideas for amplifying Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious and archetypal psychology. He concluded his first article with these words:

The approach I am putting forward is very similar to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious. The main difference is that Jung’s idea was applied primarily to human experience and human collective memory. What I am suggesting is that a very similar principle operates throughout the entire universe, not just in human beings. If the kind of radical paradigm shift I am talking about goes on within biology, if the hypothesis of morphic resonance is even approximately correct, then Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious would become a mainstream idea: Morphogenic fields and the concept of the collective unconscious would completely change the context of modern psychology.

In Part II of this essay, I want to explore some ideas about the social and cultural aspects of morphic fields and morphic resonance. A familiar comparison might be that of a hive of bees or a nest of termites: each is like a giant organism, and the insects within it are like cells in a superorganism. Although comprised of hundreds and hundreds of individual insect cells, the hive or nest functions and responds as a unified whole.

My hypothesis is that societies have social and cultural morphic fields which embrace and organize all that resides within them. Although comprised of thousands and thousands of individual human beings, the society can function and respond as a unified whole via the characteristics of its morphic field. To visualize this, it is helpful to remember that fields by their very nature are both within and around the things to which they refer. A magnetic field is both within a magnet and around it; a gravitational field is both within the earth and around it. Field theories thus take us beyond the traditional rigid definition of “inside” and “outside.”

A superorganism concept of animal societies dominated behavioral biology until about the early 1960s. Then, as Edward O. Wilson, the founder of sociobiology, notes in his book, “The Insect Societies” (1971). there was a general shift in paradigm in favor of mechanistic reductionism, which explained animal societies purely in terms of interactions among genetically programmed individuals. The superorganism concept has not been forgotten, however, and forces itself again and again upon people who think about animal societies.

There is an inherent problem in the concept: if one says that the animal society is a kind of organism, then what kind of organism is it? What is it that can possibly organize all the individual animals within it? I am suggesting that there is a morphic field which embraces all the animals, a field which literally extends around all the animals within it. This field coordinates their movements just as the morphic field of the human body coordinates the activities and movements of the cells and tissues and organs. This concept better describes the characteristic phenomena of animal societies than the idea that they are all individually interacting yet separate things.


For example, it explains how termites building columns which are adjacent yet separate know how to build arches so that the two sides meet at exactly the right place in the middle. Termites are blind, and the inside of the nest is dark, so they can’t do it by vision. Edward O. Wilson considers it unlikely that they do it by hearing or acoustic methods, because of the constant background of sound caused by the movement of termites within the mound. The only hypothesis that Wilson, who represents the most hard-nosed reductionist school of thought, considers likely is that they do it by smell. And even he agrees that that seems farfetched.

If, in fact, the column construction is going on within a social morphic field which embraces the whole nest and which contains a “mold” of the future arch, then the termites’ movements are coordinated by this field and it’s much easier to understand how the columns can meet. If that is the case, it should be possible to investigate it experimentally.

In the 1920s, South African biologist Eugene Marais wrote “The Soul of The White Ant”, in which he described experiments investigating the effect of damaging South African termite mounds. Marais took a large steel plate several feet across and several feet deep and hammered it into the center of a termite mound.

The termites repaired the mound on both sides of the steel plate, building columns and arches. Their movements were coordinated even though they approached the wall from different sides.

Amazingly, the termites on opposite sides of the steel plate built arches that met at the steel plate at exactly the right position to join if the plate had not blocked their way. This seemed to demonstrate that there was some kind of coordinating influence which was not blocked by a steel plate. Obviously, this would be impossible to do by smell, as Wilson suggests, since even termites can’t smell subtle odors through a steel plate.

Unfortunately, no one has ever repeated these experiments, even though it would not be difficult to repeat them in a country where termites are common. If Marais’ result was replicated, it would strongly suggest that there was a field coordinating the actions of the individuals.


As another familiar example of the superorganism concept, consider schools of fish: when predators swim into a school, the fish dart quickly to the side in a coordinated way in order to clear a path through the middle. They move very fast in response to quite unexpected stimuli, yet they do not bump into each other. The same is true of flocks of birds. A whole flock can bank as one without the birds bumping into each other.

Recently, studies investigating the banking of large flocks of dunlins by American researcher Wayne Potts have been conducted. He filmed their maneuvers at a very rapid rate of exposure, so that he could later slow the process down and examine it frame by frame. When he did so, he found that the rate of propagation of what he calls the “maneuver wave” is extremely fast: about 20 milliseconds from bird to bird. This is much faster than the birds’ minimum reaction time to stimuli. He measured their startle reaction time using dunlins in the laboratory in dark or dim light. He set off photographic flashbulbs and measured how long it took the birds to react. He found that it took the individual birds about 80-100 milliseconds; that is, they reacted as individuals four to five times more slowly than the rate at which the maneuver wave moved from bird to bird. The banking maneuver could begin anywhere within the flock –at the front or back or at the side. It was usually initiated by a single bird or a small group of birds, and then propagated outwards much faster than could be explained by any simple system of visual cuing and response to stimuli.


If one thinks of the flock as being coordinated by a morphic field and the “maneuver wave” as a wave in the morphic field, then this phenomenon is much easier to understand than it is when explained in terms of ordinary sensory physiology. The above examples illustrate a few of the areas in which actual empirical studies are possible — areas which suggest the existence of group minds or group fields in the coordination of collective animal behavior. It has often been suggested that a similar phenomenon may be at work in human groups, especially in the behavior of crowds. A number of studies has been conducted by social psychologists on what they call “collective behavior,” which includes the behavior of crowds, football hooligans, rioting mobs, and lynching mobs, as well as rapidly spreading social phenomena such as fashions, fads, rumors, crazes, and jokes. All such phenomenon would fit readily into the concept of group morphic fields.

In interviews, athletes on successful teams commonly compare their teams to a composite organism where everybody fits in and knows where their teammates are going to be. The team behaves more like a single organism than like a composite of separate individuals. Through practice together, teams build up this response to each other; words such as empathy or sixth sense are often used to describe the feeling they share.

If we think of societies and social groups as being coordinated by morphic fields, then we realize that the groups themselves come together and dissolve as teams do, but their fields are more enduring. We are in these fields virtually all the time: family fields, or national fields, or local fields, the fields of various groups to which we belong. We are contained within these larger collective patterns of organization much of the time but because they are always present, we cease to be aware of them. We take them for granted, just as we take the air we breathe for granted, because the air is also always present. However, if we are held under water for a while, we no longer take the air for granted; we quickly become conscious of our need for it! Similarly, people placed in solitary confinement quickly become aware of the importance of social interaction.

Many anthropologists have commented on an almost indefinable “something” which holds the members of the society together. French sociologist Emile Durkheim spoke of this as the “conscience collective” (in French, the word conscience means both conscience and consciousness). He believed that one of the major functions of the “conscience collective” was to maintain the cohesion of the social group. It behaved similarly to a group field, and many of the activities of the group consciousness were concerned with maintaining and stabilizing the continued existence of the group field itself.


In the 1930s William McDougall, who wrote “The Group Mind” (1920/ 1972) and several other books on social psychology, theorized that a group mind existed which included all members of a society and which had its own thoughts, its own traditions, and its own memories. If we think of such a group mind as an aspect of the morphic field of the society, it would indeed have its own memory since all morphic fields have in-built memory through morphic resonance.

The problem with ideas like this one is that it is not possible yet to define what the group mind is or how it could be measured. Given the positivistic mood of sociology which prevailed then (and now), McDougal’s concept of the group mind was not developed further. Traumatic social conditions then dampened any remaining receptivity to notions involving group forces. By the 1930s, the shadow side of collective consciousness had taken tangible form in Nazi Germany. Because this shadow side was all too real, most people were frightened of any concept suggesting group minds or group consciousness. Certainly we have all seen the shadow side of group consciousness only too clearly in the last few decades. What we need to realize, however, is that there is much to be learned from thinking about the more positive side of group fields or group consciousness.

In more recent sociological and anthropological theory, a holistic approach to society has become quite common. In fact, compared with the biological and physical sciences which have been based on reductionist principles, a great deal of sociological and anthropological theory has taken a consistently holistic perspective. It was within this broader intellectual environment, characterized by Durkheim’s “conscience collective” and McDougall’s “group mind”, that Jung formulated his concept of the collective unconscious.


The idea that human society is an organism is extremely widespread; it is perhaps one of the most common metaphors extending throughout the history of Western thought. It exists in our language in phrases such as the body politic, head of state, arm of the law. These are organic metaphors which imply the unified, organic nature of society. The same notion is also common in religious metaphors, and is expressed in such descriptions of the Christian church as the mystical body of Christ. More specifically, Christ compared himself to the vine of which the people were the branches, again connoting an organic unity. Even in 17th century political thought, which was far more atomistic in tone, philosopher Thomas Hobbes compared society to a leviathan, a great monster, using still another organic metaphor.

Although many of us still think of society as a form of collective, living organism, the earth is now considered to be dead. This wasn’t always so; in Latin, mater means mother and materia means matter. Thus, in the Indo-European languages, matter comes from the same root as mother. Unfortunately, since the 17th century, Mother Nature in Western consciousness has been turned into dead matter; the mother has become unconscious, only preserved as a dim memory in the word matter. Instead, it is the economy that has become alive. We speak of a growing economy which can be sick or healthy, and which goes through cycles. Economies have all the attributes of giant living organisms, with an autonomy which even politicians, businessmen and bankers cannot control. The economy has become a self-regulating, self organizing system, very much alive in a supposedly dead world. Thus the economy has come to life at the expense of the earth, and that is one of the problems with which many people are currently grappling.

The concept of morphic fields containing in-built memory helps to explain many features of society: for example, there are traditions, customs, and manners which enable societies to retain their organizing principles — their autonomy, pattern, structure, and organization — even though there is a continuous turnover of individuals through the cycles of birth and death. This is similar to the way in which the morphogenetic field of the human being coordinates the entire body even though the cells and tissues within the body are continuously changing.

There are certain contexts in which social memory not only becomes conscious but is actually invoked in all societies; this is through ritual. Rituals are found in all societies all over the world, both in cultural and religious contexts.

For example, in our own society the Jewish feast of Passover recalls the dreadful visitation of death throughout Egypt when all the first-born were killed, except the first born of the Jews who were protected by the ritual blood of sacrificial lambs smeared on the doorways of Jewish houses. In the Christian Mass, the ritual of Holy Communion, in which Christians drink the blood and eat the body of Jesus, refers back to the primal Last Supper when the Passover feast was transformed and Jesus himself became the sacrificial victim.

In every society there are also hundreds of social and cultural rituals. In America, there is the national custom of the Thanksgiving dinner, which commemorates the first Thanksgiving dinner offered by Pilgrims upon their safe settlement in New England. We also have many minor rituals of everyday life, such as the rituals of greeting and parting. Saying good-bye, for example, originally meant “God be with you.” When we say good-bye, we give a ritualized blessing which retains some of the power of the original ritual, even though most people are no longer conscious of its original meaning. Similar ritual acts on large and small scales permeate even our modern “enlightened” societies.

What do people think they’re doing in rituals? In major rituals, the ritual is usually associated with a story, which refers back to a frequently forgotten primal event. For example, Guy Fawkes night is a secular ritual in England: every November 5th, bonfires are lit all over England, fireworks are set off, and effigies are burned over the bonfires. In this case, the ostensible story concerns a man named Guy Fawkes, one of the Roman Catholic conspirators in the so-called “Gunpowder Plot” who tried to blow up the House of Parliament in the 17th century.

However, lying behind that supposed explanation is a much older ritual: the Celtic festival of the dead. On November 1st, the ancient Celtic pre-Christian festival of the dead was celebrated whereby the old year was burned in effigy, as effigies are burned on Guy Fawkes day. During this period, it was believed that there was a “crack in time” when the living and the dead, the past, the present, and the future all came together. The eve of the festival of the dead was Halloween, when the spirits and ghosts came out and the dead walked again. Similarly, in the Christian calendar, November 1st is “All Saints Day” and November 2nd is “All Souls Day,” when the souls of the departed are commemorated and requiem masses are said in churches even today. So, behind our present-day celebrations lay a much older ritual background: a pattern behind a pattern. Many of these ancient rituals are alive and well in the modern world.


In general, rituals are highly conservative in nature and must be performed in the right way, which is the same way they have been performed in their past. If rituals involve language, the most important of them use sacred languages.

For example, Brahmanic rituals in India use Sanskrit, a language which is no longer spoken except by Brahmins, and the Sanskrit phrases must be pronounced the correct way in order for the rituals to be effective. We find a similar practice in a Christian context. The Coptic church in Egypt dates back to ancient times when Coptic was the spoken language; so in modern Cairo, you can attend a Coptic service and the language you hear is the otherwise dead language of ancient Egypt. The survival of ancient Egyptian in the Coptic liturgy was one of the important clues that enabled the unraveling of the language of ancient Egypt with the help of the Rosetta Stone. Similarly, the Russian Orthodox church uses Old Slavic, and, until recently, the Roman Catholic church used Latin. There are hundreds of such examples.

Ritual acts must be performed with the correct movements, gestures, words, and music throughout the world. The same pattern is found from one country to another as participants perform the ritual in the same way it has been performed countless times in the past. When people are asked why they do this, they frequently say that this enables them to participate with their ancestors or predecessors. So rituals have a kind of deliberate and conscious evocation of memory, right back to the first act. If morphic resonance occurs as I think it does, this conservatism of ritual would create exactly the right conditions for morphic resonance to occur between those performing the ritual now and all those who performed it previously. The ritualized commemorations and participatory re-linking with the ancestors of all cultures might involve just that; it might, in fact, be literally true that these rituals enable the current participants to reconnect with their ancestors (in some sense) through morphic resonance.


In light of this idea, various aspects of religious ritual can be viewed with a new significance. For example, consider the use of mantras in the Eastern traditions. Mantras are sacred sounds or words which often have no explicit meaning. The best known of the Indian mantras is OM. A Christian mantra (and, in fact, it is also a Jewish and Muslim mantra) is AMEN. Although it translates literally as, “So be it,” it has a much deeper significance as a mantric phrase. When chanted in its original form of AMEN, it was an extremely powerful mantra. It survives at the end of Christian prayers and hymns even though most people are unaware of why it is there.

In Tibetan and Hindu tradition, the mantra is communicated to the disciple by the guru (or master) as part of an initiation. Using the mantra, the disciple is able to connect with the guru as well as with the entire tradition that transmitted the mantra through the guru. In Tibetan Buddhism there is often an actual visualization during the chanting of the mantra. The acolytes visualize the guru who has given it to them floating above their heads, and then visualize the entire lineage of masters and gurus behind him, right back to the Buddha himself. There are Tibetan pictures of people sitting and meditating with a tree growing out of their heads — a tree filled with faces and figures. These are called “lineage trees,” and they represent the spiritual lineage through which the transmission comes to the disciple.

Just as morphic resonance provides a more comprehensible explanation of the power of mantras, it also helps explain certain prohibitions that might not otherwise make sense. All religions have prohibitions on blasphemy (the wrong use of sacred words), such as the Judeo-Christian admonition not to take the Lord’s name in vain. People are often instructed to use mantras only in the appropriate context and not to bandy the word around in casual conversation. I myself have heard Hindu gurus caution that inappropriate use will weaken the mantra. This makes impressive sense when explained in terms of morphic resonance: Instead of acting as a key tuning one into the meditative states of one’s own past and of the past of the guru or lineage of gurus, the mantra would also tune one into all the casual conversations at which the word had been bandied around. Thus, extraneous influences which would dilute or weaken the intended effect of the mantra would be brought in via the phenomenon of morphic resonance.


Other aspects and characteristics of religious traditions become clear when viewed in terms of morphic fields. Many religious teachers compare their way to a path, as in Christianity when Jesus says, “I am the Way,” or as in Buddhism where there is the eight-fold path of the Buddha. The notion is that through a religious initiation, the individual is set on a path which the initiator of the path — Buddha or Christ — has trod before them, and on which many other people since then have also trod. The people who have gone along that path create a morphic field, and not only those who established the initial path, such as Buddha or Christ, but all those who followed after them contribute to the morphic field, making the pathway easier to traverse. In Christianity the concept is explicitly stated in the Apostles’ Creed through the doctrine of the “Communion of Saints.” Those who follow the path of Jesus are not only aided by Jesus himself but also by the communion of saints — all those who have trodden the path before.

If we take the notion of “schools of thought” or “schools of art,” we have another area of traditions in which groups of people share in a common ideal and a common pattern of activity. Here again, artistic and philosophical traditions make more sense when considered in terms of organizing and enduring morphic fields. Art historians write about the flow of influence from the Venetian school to the Flemish school, for example. This mysterious flow of influence could be understood as the result of the process of successive schools of art tuning into the morphic fields of the earlier schools. (I am indebted to Susan Gablik, 1977, for this idea.) If we think of paintings as having morphic fields for their actual structures, we can then see how a kind of “building up” occurs through morphic resonance. A painting in a given school is created; other people see it. Every time a new painting in that school is made, it alters the field of the school. There is a kind of cumulative effect. Just as an animal within a species draws upon the morphic fields of the species and, in turn, contributes to those same fields, a work of art produced within a school draws upon the morphic field of the style of the school and contributes to it, so that the style evolves.


A very similar analysis applies to the history of science. We can think of different schools of thought and different areas of inquiry in science as having their own morphic fields. In fact, we speak about the field of physics, the field of biology, the field of geophysics, the field of metallurgy, and so on. It is my opinion that we could take literally the very use of the word field in this context. Within each field of science there are sub-groups: in physics, for example, there are astrophysicists, quantum theorists, and so on, and sub-schools within those sub-groups. Entrants to each must go through the proper initiations; they must study and pass the right exams; and all have their own folklore, mythology, and founding fathers. This is essentially the insight of Thomas S. Kuhn in his great book, “The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions” (1970). He says that science is a social activity, and that scientists are initiated into the professional group by the practicing group of scientists. These social groups are self-regulating and self-organizing, just like any other field structure. Scientists strongly resent it if outsiders come along and tell them how to run their outfit. Physicists, for example, feel that they are the best people to judge what should go on in physics. Even if governments want to regulate the science of physics to their own ends, then they do it with the help of physicists. They have to set up committees and grant-giving agencies on which physicists sit for peer group reviews.

We see the same pattern in other professional groups: in trade unions, in the American Medical Association, in groups of engineers, and so on. Kuhn pointed out that at any given time, there is a consensus within each group about the way reality operates and the way that problems should be solved. This is what he called a paradigm. In his book, Kuhn uses the word paradigm in two senses, as he makes clear in his second edition. The paradigm is not just a conceptual way of looking at things, a model; rather, it is a shared consensual view of reality upon which the professional group depends. In each group, the members recognize those they consider proper co-members of the professional group, and those whom they recognize as outsiders — as not being within their group. This is the social aspect of paradigm.

But a paradigm also includes a model of the way problems can and should be solved. The Newtonian paradigm has a model of the way to solve physical problems; Newton’s gravitational equations are an example of such a model. As students progress through the stages undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral work, they are given increasingly difficult problems to solve. But they are always given examples of how these problems should be solved — a “style” of doing the solving — which is acceptable within the paradigm.

A shift in paradigm involves both a new way of solving problems (because there is a new way of thinking about the problems involved), and also the building up of a new social consensus among practitioners. Both Gablik and Kuhn have pointed out that the concept of paradigm in the sciences is similar to the notion of style in art: paradigms have the kind of cumulative, developmental, evolutionary quality that characterizes styles in artistic traditions. Indeed, Kuhn went so far as to model his theory of scientific development on art history. Previously, science had been treated as if it were a purely rational activity based on the cumulative building-up of knowledge, completely independent of the social and professional dimensions taking place within the scientific process. Kuhn demonstrated that the same kind of patterns which were accepted by many historians of art were also at work within the sciences.

A view of paradigms as morphic fields helps us to understand why they are so strongly conservative in nature, for once the paradigms are established, there is a large social group contributing to the consensual reality of the paradigm. A very powerful morphic resonance is evolved by this way of doing things; and that is why paradigm changes tend to be rather rare, and why they meet with strong resistance.


Gablik, S. (1977) Progress in Art. New York: Rizzoli.

Kuhn, Thomas (1970). The Structure of Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McDougall, William. (I 920/ I 972). The Group Mind. (2nd Edition). Salem, New Hampshire: Ayer Publications.

Wilson, Edward. (1971). The Insect Societies. Boston: Harvard University Press.
Mind, Memory and Archetype Part I

Mind,Memory and Archetype Part III

© 1995 – 2003 Rupert Sheldrake. All rights reserved.

Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (1999), a sequel to his best-selling Seven Experiments that Could Change the World (1994).

His most recent book is The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (Hutchinson 2003).

He lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in South India, where he wrote A New Science of Life (Blond and Briggs, 1981). He is also the author of The Presence of the Past (Collins 1988), The Rebirth of Nature (Century, 1990),Trialogues at the Edge of the West with Ralph Abraham and Terence McKenna, (Bear and Co., 1992) and The Evolutionary Mind (Trialogue Press, 1998). His book Seven Experiments that Could Change the World (Fourth Estate, 1994) was voted Book of the Year by the British Institute for Social Inventions.

With Matthew Fox, he is the author of Natural Grace: Dialogues on Science and Spirituality (Bloomsbury, 1996) and The Physics of Angels (Harper Collins, 1996). His book Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (Hutchinson) was published in September 1999, and won the British Scientific and Medical Network Book of the Year Award. In July 2000 he was the H. Burr Steinbach visiting scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts.  His most recent book is The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (Hutchinson 2003). He is currently a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, San Francisco. Rupert lives in Hampstead, London, England with his wife, Jill Purce and their two sons. Jill is the pioneer of the international sound healing movement. Website: Jill Purce.

Rupert’s website includes articles, research and ongoing research the public can participate in, a free e-newsletter, a cool glossary with definitions of such terms as: dialectical materialism, entelechy, evolution and teleonomy and much more.

Mind Memory & Archetype, Part III

by Rupert Sheldrake

The Mind as Field Phenomenon

This is the third in our series of essays by Rupert Sheldrake on the implications of his hypothesis of Formative Causation for the psychology of C. G. Jung. The intense controversy this hypothesis generated with the publication of his first book, “A New Science of Life” (1981), has stimulated a number of international competitions for evaluating his ideas via experimental investigations. The results of these experimental tests are reported in his book, “The Presence of the Past” (1988) wherein he writes:

In this book, which is less technical in style, I place the hypothesis of formative causation in its broad historical, philosophical, and scientific contexts, summarize its main chemical and biological implications, and explore its consequences in the realms of psychology, society, and culture. I show how it points towards a new and radically evolutionary understanding of ourselves and the world we live in, an understanding which I believe is in harmony with the modern idea that all nature is evolutionary.

The hypothesis of formative causation proposes that memory is inherent in nature. In doing so, it conflicts with a number of orthodox scientific theories. These theories grew up in the context of the pre-evolutionary cosmology, predominant until the 1960s, in which both nature and the laws of nature were believed to be eternal. Throughout this book, I contrast the interpretations provided by the hypothesis of formative causation with the conventional scientific interpretations, and show how these approaches can be tested against each other by a wide variety of experiments.

Sheldrake begins this essay with an interesting insight regarding the evolution of Jung’s and Freud’s conceptions of the unconscious out of the previous world view of Soul. He then explores a number of provocative ideas about “mind extended in time and space” that give us fresh perspectives on power, prayer, and consciousness.

We’ve all been brought up with the 17th century Cartesian view that our minds are located inside our brains. In this view, our minds are completely portable and can be carried around wherever we go, packaged as they are inside our skulls. Our minds, therefore, are essentially private entities associated with the physiology of each of our nervous tissues. This idea of the contracted mind, a mind which is not only rooted in the brain but actually located in the brain, is an idea that is so pervasive in our culture that most of us acquire it at an early age. It is not just a philosophical theory (although, of course, it is that); it is an integral part of the materialistic view of reality.

Our understanding of the concepts of mind and soul is actually a question of how we define the word consciousness. I prefer to view the attribute of consciousness as being restricted to human beings and, perhaps, some of the higher order of animals in which one could say there was some kind of self-consciousness. Much of the behavior which we consider to be mentally organized, however, actually arises out of unconscious processes. Riding bicycles with great skill, for example, does not involve conscious memory; it does not involve conscious thought. Bike riding utilizes a body memory that involves a great deal of unconscious action and doing. We acquire many complex skills on an unconscious level skiing, swimming, piano playing, and so on.

Such learning is notoriously difficult to describe in words because it does not involve conscious thought in the normal pattern of thought as a directed intellectual activity. A more useful concept that is difficult for us to use nowadays because its meaning is obscure to most people is the concept of the soul.

In Aristotle’s system, animals and plants had their own kind of soul, as did nature as a whole. This was the animistic view: the idea that there was an “anima” or soul in all living things. (Inanimate matter did not have a soul.) The very word animal, of course, comes from the word anima, meaning soul: animals are beings with soul. Actually, prior to the 17th century, it was believed that all of nature, and the earth as a whole, had a soul; the planets all had a soul. But the concept of soul was banished by 17th century mechanistic science.

The older view of soul is, I think, a better concept than that of consciousness. The word closest to it in modern usage is mind. The modern usage of mind, however, is almost identical with the word consciousness; mind incorrectly implies consciousness. We then have to use the term, unconscious mind, as Jung and Freud did. This usage has appeared to be a contradiction in terms to the academic world, so they have tended to reject it (and Jung’s and Freud’s conceptions of it, as well). The concept of soul, however, does not necessarily imply consciousness. The vegetative soul, which is the kind of soul that organizes the embryo and the growth of plants, was not viewed as functioning on a conscious level. When we grow as embryos, we don’t have any memory of the process. We don’t consciously think out, “the heart comes here, and I know I’ll develop a limb out there, teeth here,” and so forth. These things just seem to happen in a way that is tacit, implicit, or unconscious but yet soul like in the way they are organized.

Until the time of Descartes, three levels of soul were conceived. The vegetative soul contained the form of the body and governed embryology and growth; all animals and plants were viewed as having it. Then there was the animal soul, which concerned movement, behavior, instincts, and so on; all animals as well as humans were seen as having this level soul. Over and above the vegetative and animal soul in human beings was the rational soul, which was experienced as the more intellectual, conscious mind.

Descartes contended that there was no such thing as vegetative or animal souls. All animals and plants were dead, inanimate machines. The body itself was viewed as nothing more than a machine. It did not have an animal soul governing unconscious instincts and patterns. Those processes were entirely mechanical in nature. The only kind of soul human beings had, on the other hand, was the rational, conscious soul: “I think; therefore I am.” Thinking thus became the very model of conscious activity or mental activity, and in this way, Descartes restricted the concept of soul or spirit to the conscious, thinking, rational portion of the mind, which reached its highest pinnacle in the proofs of mathematics.

Descartes’ perspective left us with the idea that the only kind of consciousness worthy of the name was “rational consciousness” especially mathematical, scientific consciousness. In a sense, Descartes created the problem of the unconscious, for within 50 years of his work, people started saying, “Wait a minute, there’s more to us than just this conscious mind, because there are things that influence us that we are not conscious of.” Thus the idea of the unconscious mind, which we generally regard as having been invented by Freud, was actually invented again and again and again after Descartes. By defining the mind as solely the conscious part and defining everything else as dead or mechanical, Descartes created a kind of void that demanded the reinvention of the idea of the unconscious side of the mind (which everyone before Descartes had simply taken for granted in the soul concept). There is an excellent book on this subject by L.L. Whyte called “The Unconscious before Freud”, published by Julian Friedman, London, 1979.

The problem we are encountering now is that, having eliminated the concept of soul in the 17th century, we are left with concepts such as mind which are not really adequate for what we mean. If we want to get closest to what people meant by soul in the past, the modern concept of field is the most accurate approximation. Prior to Isaac Newton’s elucidation of the laws of gravity, gravitational phenomena were explained in terms of the “anima mundi”, the soul of the world or universe. The soul of the world supposedly coordinated the movements of the planets and stars and did all the things that gravitation did for Newton. Now from Einstein, we have the idea of space-time gravitational fields that organize the universe. In this concept of fields one can see aspects of the anima mundi (soul) as the being of the universe. Souls were invisible, nonmaterial, organizing principles. Fields, especially morphic fields, are invisible, nonmaterial, organizing principles that do most of the things that souls were believed to do.


In Jean Piaget’s book, “The Child’s Conception of the World”, he describes how by the age of about ten or eleven, children learn what he calls the “correct view” that thoughts, images, and dreams are invisible “things” located inside the brain. Before that age they have the “incorrect view” (as do so-called primitive people) that thoughts, images, and dreams happen outside the brain.

The Cartesian view of the mind as being located in the brain is so pervasive that all of us are inclined to speak of our minds and brains as if they were interchangeable, synonymous: “It’s in my brain,” rather than “it’s in my mind.” In the 20’s and 30’s, various philosophers and psychologists, particularly Koffka, Uhler, and Wertheimer of the Gestalt school challenged this view.

I want to argue that our minds are extended in several senses. In previous articles, we discussed how our minds are extended in both space and time with other people’s minds, and with the group mind or cultural mind by way of their connection to the collective unconscious. Insofar as we tune into archetypal fields or patterns which other people have had, which other social groups have had, and which our own social group has had in the past, our minds are much broader than the “things” inside our brains. They extend out into the past and into social groupings to which we are linked, either by ancestry or by cultural transmissions. Thus, our minds are extended in time, and I believe they are also extended in space.

Throughout this article, I want to make a simple point that is a very radical departure from traditional theory. The traditional theory of perception is that light rays reflected from objects travel through electromagnetic fields, are focused by the lens of the retina, and thereby produce an image on the retina. This triggers off electrical changes in the receptor cells of the retina leading to nerve impulses going up the optic nerve into the cerebral cortex. An image of an object somehow springs into being inside my cerebral cortex, and something or someone inside sees it. A “little man in my brain” somehow sees this image in the cerebral cortex and falsely imagines that the image is “out there,” when, in fact, it is “in here.”

Personally, I find this explanation extremely implausible. In my experience, my image of an object is right where it seems to be: outside of me. If I look out the window, my perceptual field is not inside me but outside me. That is, the objects are indeed outside me, and my perception of them is also outside me. I’m suggesting that in our perceptual experience, the perceptual fields extend all around us. While, as the traditional view holds, there is an inward flow of light impulses which eventually lead up to the brain, I also experience an outward projection of the images from my mind. The images are projected out, and in normal perception, the projection out and the flow in coincide, so that I see an image of an object where the object really is located.

In hallucinatory types of perception, I can see images whether they are there, in fact, or not. Consider “psychic blindness”: people can be hypnotized so that they no longer see objects which are actually in their view. In such a case of “psychic blindness,” the inward flow is present but not the outward projection. More normally, the movement out and the movement in coincide with each other as part of a coordinated process, creating a perceptual field that embraces both the observer and the object.

This idea of the extended mind is a matter of common belief in ancient and traditional societies. If this concept were true, it would mean that we could influence things or people just by looking at them. In India, for example, it is believed that a person who either looks on a holy man, or is himself looked on by the holy man, receives a great blessing. In many parts of the world, including India, Greece, and the Middle East, it is believed that if you look upon something with the eye of envy – the “evil eye” – you therefore blight it. People in many cultures still take great precautions against this so-called evil eye. In India, it is considered to be extremely unlucky for a childless woman to admire a baby who belongs to another woman (whereas in our society, this is merely good manners). This is because she is assumed to be envious of the baby. Once a childless woman breaks this taboo, rituals must be performed (such as making a circle of salt around the baby and reciting various mantras) to exorcise the harmful influence.

When new buildings go up in India, scarecrows are fixed on the buildings; similarly, when there is a good crop of wheat or rice, scarecrows are placed in the field. These scarecrows are not intended to “scare away crows” literally, but rather to attract the evil eye of people who might otherwise blight the crop by looking upon it with envy. The scarecrows act as “lightning conductors” because anything with a human figure attracts the eye. The Indian people also put out round pots with huge white spots stuck on sticks; the eyes are drawn to the pots because the white spots look like eyes. For similar reasons, people throughout the Middle East wear talismans which contain eyes; in Egypt, the eye of Horus serves a similar function. All this is done to protect against the evil eye.

Mind-Field Experiments

If we do affect things or people by looking at them, then can people perceive when they are being looked at, even when they cannot actually see some one looking at them?

In both realms of fictional literature and real-life experience, many people claim to have had the experience of knowing they were being watched and then turning round and seeing someone staring at them. As undergraduates at Cambridge, some of us had read a Rosicrucian advertisement about the power of the mind. It said something about, “Try this simple experiment: look at the back of someone’s neck and see if they will turn round after a few minutes.” During boring lectures we acted as suggested, and it often worked; we found that we could fix our attention on the back of someone’s neck and after a minute or two, the person often looked uncomfortable and turned round.

Although there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that people sense when they are being watched, there is almost no scientific investigation of this phenomenon. The entire world literature on the subject that I’ve been able to find consists of three papers: one written in 1896, the next one in 1910, and a final paper in 1953. Two of the papers show positive effects, although they were both done on very small subject populations.

I’ve done some simple preliminary experiments over the last few months in workshops. The way we conducted the experiment was very simple. Four people volunteered and sat at one end of the room, with their backs turned toward the audience. We put each person’s name on his or her back by way of identifying them. Then, in a series of trials, I would hold up cards in a random sequence containing the name of the person the audience was to watch. For example, if I had selected “Tom,” I would hold up a card reading, “Trial 1, Tom,” and everyone in the audience would stare at the back of Tom’s neck for fifteen seconds. At the end of each trial, all four subjects would write down whether or not they thought they were being looked at during that time period. At the end of the series of trials, we compared when the volunteers thought they were being looked at, with whether or not they really were being observed.

My results so far indicate that people vary tremendously in their degree of sensitivity to being watched. In one workshop I conducted in Amsterdam, there was a woman who was 100 percent accurate; she knew each time she was being watched. She was the best subject I’ve encountered. When I asked if she knew why she had done so well, she said that as a child she used to play this game with her brothers and sisters. They practiced and she got very good at it; she had volunteered because she was sure she’d still be able to do it, even though she hadn’t done it for 20 or 30 years.

A friend of mine has been conducting this experiment in one-on-one trials with friends and colleagues. In over 600 trials subjects reported accurately when they were being observed 65 – 70% of the time, which is statistically significant. These results indicate that there is an outgoing influence from the eyes or from the mind; perhaps mental influence does extend beyond the boundaries of the physical body. It has been suggested that this might be a telepathic rather than a visual influence.

There is a simple method of checking that out. In some trials, the people doing the looking could turn around so that they are facing away from the volunteers and just think about the designated volunteer rather than look at him or her. If there was greater effect when the volunteers were actually being looked at than when they were being thought about, then one could hypothesize which type of influence was functioning.

A variation of this experiment is to examine the effect of distance on the perception of the subjects. Have the person being looked at located at a considerable distance from those looking at him (binoculars could be used) and then see if the effect still works. If it does, then set up trials using video or closed circuit television. Imagine an experiment in which there were four people in a studio (or even in different studios), with cameras running continuously, and a randomized switching device so that the person being looked at in each trial is randomly determined. Imagine a typical television audience of millions of viewers. Now, what if the subjects could distinguish when they were being looked at by other people over television. There one would have a massive, large-scale demonstration of extended mind in a way that could be conclusive.

This format, too, could be extended. You could have people looking at subjects in the Soviet Union via satellite linkups; one could elaborate this pattern indefinitely. What happens to actresses and actors, to prominent political figures, when they are looked at by millions of people? Are they affected by being in people’s minds?

Large-scale experiments to test hypotheses could do more to bring about a paradigm shift than any amount of lecturing about the limitations of the mechanistic theory. Our perceptual fields may reach far beyond our physical brains; when we look at the stars, our minds may literally reach to the stars. There may be almost no limit on how far this process can extend.

Mind, Memory and Archetype Part I

Mind, Memory and Archetype Part II

© 1995 – 2003 Rupert Sheldrake. All rights reserved.

Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author of Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (1999), a sequel to his best-selling Seven Experiments that Could Change the World (1994).

His most recent book is The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (Hutchinson 2003).

He lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in South India, where he wrote A New Science of Life (Blond and Briggs, 1981). He is also the author of The Presence of the Past (Collins 1988), The Rebirth of Nature (Century, 1990),Trialogues at the Edge of the West with Ralph Abraham and Terence McKenna, (Bear and Co., 1992) and The Evolutionary Mind (Trialogue Press, 1998). His book Seven Experiments that Could Change the World (Fourth Estate, 1994) was voted Book of the Year by the British Institute for Social Inventions.

With Matthew Fox, he is the author of Natural Grace: Dialogues on Science and Spirituality (Bloomsbury, 1996) and The Physics of Angels (Harper Collins, 1996). His book Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, and Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (Hutchinson) was published in September 1999, and won the British Scientific and Medical Network Book of the Year Award. In July 2000 he was the H. Burr Steinbach visiting scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts.  His most recent book is The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (Hutchinson 2003). He is currently a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, San Francisco. Rupert lives in Hampstead, London, England with his wife, Jill Purce and their two sons. Jill is the pioneer of the international sound healing movement. Website: Jill Purce.

Rupert’s website includes articles, research and ongoing research the public can participate in, a free e-newsletter, a cool glossary with definitions of such terms as: dialectical materialism, entelechy, evolution and teleonomy and much more.

Check out more of Rupert’s articles here at Satya Center in the Rupert Sheldrake Archive.

(All photos in this article are clip art except for the picture of the “Girl in Sky Skirt” by Jane Sherry and Rupert Sheldrake’s photo, which came to us courtesy of the author.)


Cheerfully,  Parzifal

John Lamb Lash wrote this article which is, in fact, an analysis of the first two movies of The Matrix Trilogy.




“You Are the Plague”


With the release of the second film in the Matrix Trilogy, The Matrix Reloaded, the adventures of Neo and Trinity continue to fascinate millions of moviegoers around the world. Spectacular as they are, there is more to the Matrix films than special effects. Various beliefs regarding the human speces are nested into the plot-line, and the way these beliefs play against each other makes these films the subject of endless debate. The Matrix films provide a unique occasion to consider the immense power of electronic media over our minds and lives.


In the definitive scene in The Matrix (1999), Agent Smith, a coolly sinister plainclothes entity in the computer-simulated world that is the Matrix, says to Morpheus, leader of the rebel group that has escaped it: “Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet. You are the plague. And we are… the cure.”


In this exchange, Agent Smith speaks for what created him: the power of AI, artificial intelligence. In another scene where Morpheus initiates Neo, a new recruit to the rebel team, he says: “Through the blinding inebriation of hubris, we marveled at our magnificence as we gave birth to AI.” This sentence encapulates the attitude of many technocrats who believe that advanced computer science will produce astounding miracles of a beneficial kind. Confidence in the miraculous possibilities of AI is one of several technocratic beliefs at play in the complex plot of the Matrix trilogy. Morpheus explains to Neo, whom he has extracted from the Matrix, that sometime at the start of the twenty-first century war broke out between the humanity and a race of machines spawned by the advanced technology of AI, itself the product of human minds. Thus humanity, instead of using AI to engineer a new world, has become enslaved to its own invention.


In the Matrix trilogy the central conflict is between the mental power of human beings and the mind-mimicing powers of AI. (All quotes are from The Shooting Script: The Matrix Screenplay by Larry and Andy Wachowski, Newmarket Press, New York, 2001.)


Man Against Machines


Agent Smith, who is not a simulation of an actual human being but a perfect human replica devised by AI, represents the Machines that rebelled against their inventors. (This theme is not new, of course. It plays a central role in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, written by Arthur C. Clarke, in which a superintelligent computer HAL rebels against his makers and hijacks an interplanetary mission.) The Machines themselves are horrible gigantic insects, depicted with erector-set carapaces, octopus-like tentacles and high-tech sensors, who swarm like locusts over the surface of the earth. The planet has been demolished by nuclear war, the atmosphere plunged in perpetual darkness.


The vast majority of human beings are no longer born naturally but raised in huge cellular banks of holding tanks where they are harvested by the Machines to whom they supply bioelectrical energy. Each individual body of a living human is comatose, immersed in gooey gel, and gruesomely connected by coaxial cables to an unseen mainframe that simulates a world resembling ordinary urban life in the late twentieth century. Neo, who is the “One” predestined to free humanity from the illusion of living in a real world, must first realize that the world from which he was extracted, and which he took for totally real, is “a neural-interactive simulation that we call the Matrix.”


The Matrix was filmed in Sydney, Australia, a city that looks like any other. At first the viewer is unaware that scenes occurring in this setting are not real-world events but simulations. In this perfect replication of ordinary urban life, a message appears on the screen of Neo’s computer telling him, “The Matrix has you.” At the moment we read these words, we the viewers are also caught in the same illusion.


The film tricks the viewer, not into believing that the world simulated in the Matrix is real, but into believing that it is possible to wake up within the simulation, as one does in a lucid dream. The heroic quest of Neo consists in realizing, when he is in the Matrix, that he has the power to master it through his own mind. To this end, Morpheus and his team of rebels, who have extracted Neo from the holding, voluntarily return with him to the Matrix so that they can test their human mental powers against the AI that drives the simulation. Many scenes in the film unfold as if the characters were functioning in a video game.


Among the team is Trinity, Neo’s love interest, who plays a decisive role in his final battle to overcome the illusional powers of the Matrix. The romance of Neo and Trinity carries the belief that love between two humans is necessary if one of them is to find the inner strength to master the Matrix. Although the actors who play these two lovers are almost totally devoid of emotion, this romantic angle is perhaps the most appealing twist of the film.


Let’s Get Real


The exchange where Agent Smith tells Morpheus, “You are the plague,” occurs in the Matrix itself, that is, in a setting simulated in virtual reality (VR). This scene contains some of the more profound moments in the film. (It must be said, there is a lot of terrific dialogue in the Matrix – in the first installment, anyway.) It takes some brainwork during and after the film to realize that Agents like Smith are human replicas with no human counterparts. They are not linked to the real humans held captive in the holding tanks, but are pure constructs of AI, like Lara Croft and other video-game “avatars.” As such they are invested with superhuman power: Agents can kill human replicas in the Matrix, and when they do, the real human body attached to the replica dies. Humans who appear in the Matrix, including ordinary people on the street as well as the rebel escapees, all have their doubles outside it. The difference is, the rebels live as free beings in the real but devastated world beyond the Matrix, conscious that the Matrix is an illusion, but all the other unplugged humans who appear to live normally in the Matrix are blind to the illusion.


Obviously, this two-world scenario has a tremendous impact on human imagination. The notion that we inhabit a world that is somehow not real is extremely appealing to a society dominated by advertizing, entertainment, governmental fictions and untrammelled technological magic. The Matrix trilogy has been called the first sci-fi action film for intellectuals. Its creators, the Wachowski brothers, were inspired by the hady conceits of French sociologist Jean Baudrillard who has written extensively on “simulation.” Material on the Internet devoted to Baudrillard’s theories as represented in the films runs into hundreds of pages. The Wachowskis acknowledge Baudrillard as a major influence by inserting a visual cue to one of his books, Simulation and Simulacra, in the opening scene of the first film. Baudrillard himself “has snorted in derision regarding The Matrix.” He says that no film can fully explore his ideas and that the attempts to do so in these films are “misinformed and misguided.” (Taking the Red Pill, edited by Glenn Yeffeth, p. 290)


Whether or not the Matrix films accurately reflect Baudrillard’s recondite notions, they succeed brilliantly in presenting an extravaganza of special effects to demonstrate the spell of simulation. But the ultimate effect of this spectacle is ambiguous. If the message here is “let’s get real” and wake up from the Matrix, i.e., the artificially simulated world of electronic technology in which the human species is rapidly cocooning itself, then the question remains, “What is there to wake up to?” The life of the rebel escapees unfolds entirely on Morpheus’s ship, the Nebuchadnezzer, which navigates continually through massive sewage tunnels bored into the earth. The rebels talk of a place called Zion, the last refuge for humanity, somewhere in the interior of the planet, but Zion is never shown in the first film. The life of the rebels aboard their tunnelling spacecraft is anything but warm and cushy. One of them, Cypher, plays a Judas figure who prefers to return to the Matrix. He cuts a deal with Agent Smith who promises, when Cypher is reinserted into the mainframe of simulation, to provide him with a life of “someone important, like an actor.”


This is clever play on the theme of simulation, but it is cynical play. There are endless pleasures in the Matrix, all the sensory and material gratifications promised by the modern world. Weary of the tough side of being real, Cypher aspires to be an actor in an illusion, a simulation squared. The options of the film are stark: accept the illusion provided by AI, masking a horrific reality, or accept the hardship of living in a world devastated by the conflict between humanity and AI. Thousands of pages of commentary on the Matrix have been published on the Internet, and several books are dedicated to close analysis of the plot and its metaphysical ramifications. All this scrutiny fails to pose an essential question, however: What is the fate of the natural world, the original habit of the human species?


Beyond Simulation


The rebels who have liberated themselves from the Matrix do not have the option to return to living on the surface of the planet — although this option might (I suspect) arise in the third and final installment, Matrix Revolutions, due out in November 2003. Life in Zion is depicted in the second film as an underworld rave scene populated mainly by people of color invested with high tribal glamour. (“Black is beautiful” is clearly a subtext of the Matrix films.) The lily-white lovers, Neo and Trinity, played by Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, stalk around wearing supercool shades and looking for all the world like Jesuits in leather designed by Armani. Almost nobody smiles except the sinister Agents and Cypher, the traitor.


In the first film the Matrix simulates a modern urban setting with few traces of the natural world. In the sequel, some scenes of simulated nature are shown. Presumably, if you want to go skiing in the Alps in the Matrix, the mainframe will download the required program to your cortex and you will have the entire experience exactly as if it were real. (In the second film, Neo succeeds in penetrating the mainframe where he encounters a simulated figure who claims to be the creator of the Matrix.) This recalls how VR, virtual reality, is expected to work according to the prophetic vision of many technophiles today. Captives of the Matrix can enjoy simulations of nature and never know what they’re missing. Theoretically, escapees from the Matrix could return to nature, but there is no motivation to do so if the natural world is devastated, or rendered almost unlivable. The Machines do not require the conditions necessary for human survival on the surface of the planet: oxygen to breathe, for instance. According to Agent Smith, these Machines consider the human race to be something like a virus, a plague for which AI is the cure.


Agent Smith tells Morpheus, “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I’ve realized that you are not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment. But you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus.” This is perhaps the most telling line in the first film. At this point the story line presents a comment on the audience: we, the human species, do not behave like ordinary mammals, and so we could permanently lose our place in nature. Instead of inhabiting the natural world, we infest it, like a plague.


In Agent Smith’s ominous words, the voice of AI condemns the human species for its rapacious consumption of natural resources and its cherished habit of overbreeding. These behaviors are inconsistent with mammalian intelligence and they devastate the natural world, as we all know so well, but our obession with AI is also part of this auto-destructive syndrome. Indeed, it may represent the endgame phase. Some sci-fi writers script into their stories the belief that our species has developed AI so that we can “downlaod ourselves into the hardware” and thus eliminate ourselves as perishable humans. One could say that AI is a means to end the human narrative. The Matrix carries this belief to its ultimate ramification: there will be no human life beyond or apart from simulation produced by the Machines, the non-human cyber-species.


The positive message of the Matrix films thus far is that if we as individuals awaken to the simulation in which we live, we can master it by spiritual means, by the exertion of will power and mind control. At the end of the first film, Neo uses such powers to annihilate Agent Smith. The hero exhibits superhuman abilities in the Matrix, but he remains entirely human in his extra-Matrix existence. (During their interventions into the Matrix, the rebels appear as human replicas but remain in their human physical bodies aboard the Nebuchannezzer, strapped into reclining chairs and temporarily plugged into the Matrix so that they can access and subvert it. However, if they are killed in the Matrix, they can really die in physical form, like a dreamer killed in a nightmare who actually dies in bed.)


Neo’s triumph over the Agents is a magical resolution with a wide range of fascinating possibilities. It recalls the esoteric practice of developing siddhis, magical faculties possessed by yogis, Zen masters and Buddhist warrior monks. To remain a liberated human and at the same time penetrate at will into the Matrix is itself an occult feat of the highest order: bilocation. (Full physical bilocation is no mere fantasy. Actual cases are attested: see Supernature by Lyall Watson, in orientation reading for Metahistory.) A sort of bilocation occurs spontaneously in out-of-the body experiences as well as in lucid dreaming, when someone wakes up in a dream knowing that they are simultaneously asleep in bed.


Facing the Archons


The way beyond the Matrix remains to be discovered. Baudrillard’s effete and largely impenetrable writings on simulation, but this may be a red herring, as there is another way, perhaps a better way, to explain what is happening in the Matrix. In a long article entitled “Gnosticism Reborn: The Matrix as Shamanic Journey,” author Jake Horsely considers how the Matrix films reflect the Gnostic myth of the Archons, alien entities who attempt to deceive humanity by simulating its thoughts and behavior. Although Horsley delves into Gnostic mythology only superficially, and does not mention the Archons except in a footnote, his essay introduces an entirely new perspective on the plot the Matrix trilogy.


(Horsely’s essay appears in several places on the Internet. I am citing from


Gnosticism is the name historians give to the final phase of a vast tradition of pagan spirituality that came to be condemned as heresy when Christianity rose to power. Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi documents in 1945, almost nothing was known of the core teachings of Gnosticism. The word Gnostic means simply “one who knows” but carries the implication of special insight that penetrates to the hidden core of human experience. Certain Gnostics taught that humans are deviated from their proper course of evolution by a bizarre species of inorganic beings who inhabit the solar system beyond the earth, and named this species the Archons. The Greek word archon means “authority,” and the Archons are sometimes called “the Authorities.” In the Matrix, the Agents are the authorities who police the simulated world looking for human replicas like Neo who show signs of waking up to the scam. Horsely explains the Gnostic idea that the Archons try to impose “a program of mind control, or soul enslavement [in order to] keep mankind distracted by material problems and concerns, imprisoned by its own fear of death, of mortality, and ignorant of its true, divine nature.”


A Gnostic perspective thus suggests that the Matrix scenario presents a cyberpunk version of a genuine spiritual dilemma, a true and daunting challenge that faces humanity, perhaps its ultimate challenge. In their warnings about deception by the Archons, Gnostics may have foreseen the risks of AI two thousand years before it emerged. However, the manner in which the Archons operate, their strategy of simulation, as it were, as described in certain Gnostic texts, does not involve advanced technological devices but religious ideology. (Horsely does not explore this point.) According to the Gnostic texts, Archontic deviation of the human species is a form of mass behaviour modification achieved through blind conformity to certain false religious beliefs, such as the belief in salvation from a sinful condition by the intervention of God or God’s only representative. In short, Gnostics rejected the salvationist ideology common to Judaism and Christanity (and later, after their elimination, Islam).


It is known that Gnostic ideas deeply influenced Philip K. Dick, widely considered as the greatest sci-fi writer of the twentieth century. Certainly Gnosticism presents theological and cosmological beliefs as if plotted in a science fiction novel. This characterization of Gnostic ideas is suggested by scholar Richard Smith in the afterword to The Nag Hammadi Library in English: “Gnostic motifs have been identified in that most visionary of our modern literary genres, science fiction… In the science fiction novels of the prolific writer Philip K. Dick… Gnosticism is consciously employed” (p. 546). In Valis and other works, Dick developed the idea that humans live in a “two-world hologram,” part of which is genuinely real and part of which is the deceptive projection of an alien mentality that distorts our humanity. This schizophrenic model is consistent with the Gnostic mythos.


With the Archons we face an alien invasion in the depths of our own minds.


Escape from the Matrix


Treated as a heresy in its time and still considered as such by the Catholic Church, Gnosticism has been widely misrepresented, even by those who claim to defend it. In particular, there is enormous disinformation around Gnostic views on the reality and value of the physical world. Many scholars declare that Gnostics “condemned matter” and regarded the natural world as evil, purely a product of Archontic deception. Nonetheless, a few dissenting voices argue that the Gnostics rejected, not the physical world per se, but our distorted perception of it. This view confirms the uncanny insight of Agent Smith: the behavior of the human species is inconsistent with sane mammalian activity. Could it be a distorted perception of nature that makes us act like a plague upon Earth?


According to the contemporary Gnostic revivalist Stephen Hoeller, “Gnostics did not necessarily reject the actual earth, which they recognized as a screen upon which the Demiurge [chief of the Archons] projects a deceptive system. To the extent that we find a condemnation of the world in Gnostic writings, the term used is inevitably kosmos… and never the word ge (earth), which they regarded as neutral if not outright good” (The Gnostic Jung, p. 15). Cosmos in ancient Greek did not mean the natural world or the physical universe at large. It meant “system,” recalling the use of that word in computer terminology: “operating system.” It is perhaps a ripe coincidence that the Coptic word for simulation found in Gnostic texts is hal, recalling HAL the rebellious computer in Kubrick and Clarke’s 2001!


Much could be said about the Gnostic elements in the Matrix, but one point is central. The deception of the Archons described in Gnostic writings is precisely what is manifested in the “neural-interactive simulation we call the Matrix” (the words of Morpheus). But if this is the case, how come the simulation that threatens to absorb humanity is technological rather than ideological, as the Gnostics believed it to be? The answer may be that the technological takeover of our species has actually been prepared long in advance by ideological deviations in our religious belief-systems, especially those religious beliefs that determine our response to the natural world. This implies a deep intrusion into the psychic territory of humanity, but it is totally consistent with the Gnostic argument that erroneous religious ideology is a kind of virus insinuated in the human mind by an alien intelligence, a non-human species comparable to the Machines in the Matrix.


Jake Horsley is one of the very few people writing on the Matrix who has asked, “Where is the glory of nature in the Matrix?” He notes that “I don’t believe I saw a single tree throughout the movie.” This observation returns us to the central question, here rephrased: If escaping from the simulated world of the Matrix does not take us back to the natural world where we as a species originated, where will it take us?


Alluding to the Romantic poet William Blake, Horsely compares Neo’s heroic quest in the Matrix to “Blake’s liberation of perception into the Imagination.” It remains to be seen if the imagination of the creators of the Matrix trilogy is up to this high standard of achievement. Whatever the case, this cinematic story challenges us to break out of the fierce technological spell of simulation and to recover our humanity through the realization of our imaginative powers. The Gnostics held imagination to be part of our divine endowment, that which distinguishes us from other mammals.


We are the plague, for sure, but do we also hold the cure for what ails us?


John Lamb Lash: June-July 2003


    Parzifal says, “Enjoy!”