A Perfect Square is on some level an exploration of the different ways people approach esotericism. Who are these people? Where can we find them? Meet the eccentric artist Harriet Brassington-Smythe, her daughter, pianist Ginny Smith, and the mysterious hidden figure of Wilhelm Schmid, a scholar of the esoteric order of the Rosicrucians.
I cannot say that conspiracy theory is a major theme in A Perfect Square, but it does enter into one of the story lines, as mother and artist Judith, alone in an old farmhouse on the Devon moors, explores an internet forum, called ‘The Forum’.
My own thinking on esotericism and on conspiracy thinking goes much deeper. Why do the two go together and how? They are united through two words: elitism and secrecy. Simply put, conspiracy thinking always points to some sort of elite. Esoteric practice creates that elite. Esoteric practice generally occurs in secret. Power elites conduct their business in secret. Conspiracy theorists tend to also have an esoteric bent. Esoteric-minded types will always always look behind the scenes to see if they can see what’s going on. They sense the conspiring. But they get hung up on theories. Why bother? When really, conspiracy theories are themselves just mental traps.
Here’s a piece I wrote for the aptly named Paranoia magazine. Where I have tried to stretch my thinking a little further.
And as for A Perfect Square, I like to think it packs a punch. Well, that was my intention. At the time of writing I was inspired very much by Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery. Like Eco, I’m motivated by the fact that there is too much misinformation out there, misinformation that easily takes root in minds rendered receptive through a lack of access to alternative and perhaps accurate information. I also marvel at the way opposers, especially those on the Left, get so hot under the collar when it comes to conspiracy thinking, as though it were a personal affront. Or threat?
A Perfect Square is now available for pre-order, which is quite exciting and I’m very grateful to Odyssey Books for choosing to publish the work.
I’ve commenced work on another novel, one that explores the ideas of Theosophist Alice A Bailey. If you would like to journey with me as I venture further into this strange realm of the unknown, please contact me and I’ll add you to my mailing list.
First published in 1930, Narziss and Goldmund forms part of a profoundly insightful body of work by Hermann Hesse.
I visited Goodreads and was not surprised to find well over a thousand reviews. I’ve only read the first few, and I’m left wondering what I can add that would contribute to the collective understanding of this work.
I will admit I am not a scholar of literature or history, nor have I read any biography of Hesse. I first came across his work in my twenties and devoured Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game among others. Back then I had not a clue about the spiritual path or western esotericism. But decades have passed and now I do, and it is with fresh eyes that I can perhaps see what Hesse might have been trying to achieve.
In Narziss and Goldmund, Hesse presents the reader with two sorts of spirituality and the two paths that unfold from each. Narziss is destined to be the Abbott of a cloister. He is a philosopher, a thinker, living close to God in the realm of the abstract mind. He is the archetypal master of wisdom.
His pupil, Goldmund, is at odds with himself. Memory of part of his childhood is denied him and when he awakens to it, he begins a journey of self discovery that takes him away from the cloister and out into the world. Not the ordinary world of duty and work and family and community. His reality is akin to Arjuna in the battlefield, as written in the Bhagavad Gita; a journey through the realm of extreme emotions, with desire and lust on the one hand, and death in all its forms on the other.
So intense are Goldmund’s responses, that at first he cannot find meaning. But eventually, as he journeys into and through the experiences that befall him, he does. He is a seeker, and the journey is an initiatory one, culminating in the realisation that we transcend the ravages of the emotions through the faculty of imagination, and its finest expressions in art.
Those who resonate with this story are engaging with a work of visionary/metaphysical fiction of enormous profundity. Those who see past the compulsions and shallow satisfactions of the flesh; detect the irony in Goldmund’s relentlessly questioning mind; see into his frustrations and emerging detachment; may understand that through his character, Hesse is portraying the most fundamental pairs of opposites upon which human experience is cleaved: woman and man; lust and death, passion and intellect, good and evil.
And the esoteric thinker will also understand Hesse’s portrayal of the transmutation of the emotions through the faculty of imagination; the image maker within, existing on the plane of intuition, sees in patterns, in completed wholes; thus it is through the harnessing of this faculty of the soul through the imagination that the artist stills the emotions and imbues them with the stamp of something transcendent and universal. And so it is through this process that the pairs of opposites may sit in loose unity.
I’ve long admired Hermann Hesse’s work. I resonate with it now more strongly than ever. As an author I’m in awe of his achievement. Narziss and Goldmund is not a piece of entertainment; it’s a literary portrayal of the spiritual path.
It is always good to discover new voices that contribute to a critique of our time. Much is made of George Orwell and Franz Kafka whose insights in literary form resonate with many today. Out of the same groundswell of intellectual, artistic and literary dissent and concern for the suffering of humanity that emerged in the first half of the twentieth century, came second-generation Theosophist, Alice Bailey. Out of her vast collection of works, many of them metaphysical in nature, can be found some valuable insights into the nature of humanity. Today, I stumbled upon this paragraph while researching background material for my latest project.
Writing in 1938, Bailey writes:
”The Forces of Darkness are powerful energies, working to preserve that which is ancient and material; hence they are pre-eminently the forces of crystallisation, of form preservation, of the attractiveness of matter, and of the lure of that which is existent in the form life of the three worlds. They consequently block deliberately the inflow of that which is new and life-giving; they work to prevent the understanding of that which is of the New Age; they endeavour to preserve that which is familiar and old, to counteract the effects of the oncoming culture and civilisation, to bring blindness to the peoples and to feed steadily the existing fires of hate, of separateness, of criticism and of cruelty. These forces, as far as the intelligent peoples of the world are concerned, work insidiously and cloak their effort in fair words, leading even disciples to express hatred of persons and ideologies, fostering the hidden seeds of hatred found in many human beings. They fan to fury the fear and hate of the world in an effort to preserve that which is old and make the unknown appear undesirable, and they hold back the forces of evolution and of progress for their own ends.” Externalisation of the Hierarchy, Lucis Trust, 1957, p 76.
I find this an excellent summation of the crises humanity faces at the current time: Whether climate change, war, hunger, social injustice, at root all these crises have been and continue to be fostered by the corruption and selfishness of the world’s powerful elite. Bailey’s is one voice among many, her perspective inspiring some and not others. I draw from a number of wells but find it refreshing to dip into her esoteric waters now and then, even if, as today, purely by chance.
Writing from the end of WWI through to 1949, Theosophist Alice Bailey was concerned for the well-being of the whole of humanity. She saw the rise of fascism in Europe as an evil that must be abated. She could see that dark forces were afoot on the planet, and believed that these forces were fundamentally materialistic and that for humanity to free itself from their vice-like grip, each individual must learn to recognise and learn to dispel glamour and illusion; learn that the nature of evil is selfishness, with all the associated greed and lust for power. Individuals must train themselves to avoid all selfishness, serve humanity and exercise goodwill. And train in the creation of thoughtforms (ideas, concepts, theories) that would help to raise awareness and benefit humanity. Finally, Alice Bailey placed great faith in the United Nations as the single global humanitarian vehicle in the service of human and planetary betterment.
What has happened to her work today? Setting aside her followers who continue to practice and apply her teachings, often behind the scenes; Alice Bailey, for example, inspiring founder of Transpersonal Psychology Roberto Assagioli who was a Secretary of her Arcane School of Esoteric Practice. Setting aside too those bloggers and commentators who follow on from evangelical Christian, Constance Cumbey, whose work, Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow (Huntington House, 1983) I and others have discredited on the grounds of poor scholarship and false claims. Commentators such as Cumbey persist in denigrating Bailey’s teachings, largely by aligning her work with the anti-Christ.
It would seem that Alice Bailey’s teachings are being used elsewhere in text-book fashion, not for the purposes they were intended but to bring about conditions such as those depicted in the works from Orwell and Kafka. In other words to foster not spiritual enlightenment but a blanket of darkness, making full use of her notion of the manifestation and function of glamour and illusion.
We are living therefore in an era of lies, where a thing is in reality its own other, its opposite. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the various think tanks from the Heartland Institute to Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs, dedicated to producing propaganda, lies and spin, misinformation, disinformation, to perpetuating ideology and, most insidious of all, to the appropriation and systematic undermining of critical concepts aligned to thoughtforms seeking human and planetary betterment, words with enormous conceptual power such as inclusivity, empowerment, sustainability and so on. In essence through these think tanks the creation of glamour and illusion is all-pervasive and hugely successful, aided and abetted as it is by the mainstream media.
The United Nations, for Bailey humanity’s greatest hope, seems to have been reduced to a front organisation designed to perpetuate the myth of humanitarianism and progress. As a front it perpetuates gloss, an illusion without substance, a far-reaching veil behind which the reality of power, addicted to a cult of violent destruction, resides. Evidenced in the use made of glamourous celebrity figures such as Hollywoood actress Angelina Jolie, 2001 UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, in April 2012 appointed as Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, and now appealing to United Nations Security Council to stop sexual violence in war zones. The placement of Hollywood celebrities in key positions of humanitarian advocacy to my mind runs parallel with Gucci (part of global corporation Kering) funding a Beyonce-fronted campaign for the empowerment of women as part of their Chime for Change. Both create a superficial gloss; packaging, corporatising or otherwise obfuscating in careful speeches and touching images the extremely unpalatable, and in so doing, reinforcing that it is the elite who will foster human betterment, thus stealing the ground from the vast cohort of at-the-coal-face activists.
Exacerbating an already dire situation, a veil of narcissism has descended on our planet. Constructed in the 1950s, largely through such institutions as Hollywood, the internalisation of narcissism is so successful, so aligned and intertwined with consumerism and the entire neoliberal capitalist project that few can successful wrest themselves from its grasp.
Put simply, it would appear that Alice Bailey’s books have been opened by the wrong hands. She would call these hands the Black Lodge, her work, seeking to establish the conditions for the emergence on our planet of the White Lodge, or Spiritual Hierarchy as depicted in The Externalisation of the Hierarchy (Lucis Trust, 1957). I regard both lodges in a metaphoric way, ascribing them symbolic and not literal truth. For it is metaphoric or artistic ways of knowing that have the power to cut through veils of glamour and illusion.