Lachman and OTO
30.07.10 at 2:15 pm · Lachman and OTO
Music, magick and mind
By Jack Phoenix February 2002
(quote)Tell me about your own involvement with the occult.
During the time I was in The Know (1978-1980), I got involved with a Crowley group in Los Angeles. I was actually a member of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). I don’t know their direct lineage, but it was interesting. I did all the rituals in Magick And Theory and Practice; there’s a sort of DIY manual at the back.
Did you go into it as a believer?
Well, I was interested in it. I’d read Colin Wilson’s The Occult, and New York friends had books of Crowley’s like Diary Of A Drug Fiend and Moonchild. The Nietzschean aspects of Crowley interested me. I felt that Crowley’s philosophy of the True Will was a bit like the Nietzschean concept of the Superman. Anycase, I thought it’s better that I try it rather than just talk about it.
So were you interested in accruing some sort of occult power?
Nietzsche’s always misunderstood – it’s not about power over people, it’s about power over yourself – self-discipline, creating yourself. The whole idea of the True Will struck me as basically reaching and making contact with some deeper part of myself. One of the reasons I got out of the Crowley group was that the people I was involved with seemed to think that they could define anything they felt like doing as their True Will.
If you submit to every impulse, you’re not free, you’re a slave of unconscious drives.
That’s true. This is one of the fallacies with Crowley’s philosophy. Even though he mastered all the occult techniques, he really had no discipline over himself and allowed himself every indulgence and rationalized it. This had obvious effects on his personality and character.
I’ve never understood the extent to which Crowley is admired. He was an appalling parent, husband, friend, and an uneven poet, a poor scholar and a failure as far as magical self-discipline goes.
I totally agree. There’s a wake of shattered lives behind him. But his followers would say you must separate the man from his teaching, as with Gurdjieff – he wasn’t as extreme as Crowley but still had an unsavoury side to him. But I think it’s too easy to do that; I don’t think Crowley was particularly successful even in his own endeavours.
Crowley’s (right) broadest sense of magick seems to mean the achievement of anything desired, whether it’s making a cup of tea or climbing a mountain. But in terms of what people might regard as special powers, he seems to have been remarkably unsuccessful.
I think he had some innate powers. Colin Wilson makes the point in his chapter on Crowley in The Occult that he had some kind of animal second sight. There’s a story where he’s walking along Fifth Avenue in New York and he makes someone trip over telekinetically. I’m inclined to think that he did. But it doesn’t seem to me that desirable a thing to achieve.
Surely not that impressive either? I’m reminded of old catholic bishop Sean Manchester’s comment in FT 148:52 about supernatural curses directed by occultists: “I doubt whether collectively worldwide they could muster enough Energy to soft-boil an egg, much less make me keel over.”
Wilson points out that in his autobiography Crowley admits that he would have done better had he not got into magick and the decadent life. He talks about his mountain climbing and says that that was when he felt the best, when he had risen above his ego. As someone very involved in his ego, these moments unfortunately didn’t last very long. Crowley couldn’t escape from himself, and I think that’s ultimately the problem: he really had a schoolboy’s sensibility. He’s not a hero, he’s a moral lesson. If he didn’t exist, someone would have to invent him. He’s the Romantic, decadent sensibility taken to an extreme. His life shows us its limits.
In the book you say that the OTO rituals are basically tantric sex magick designed to achieve altered states of consciousness. Some of them seem to involve – how shall I put it? – the ingestion of bodily effluvia. Didn’t it give you a tummy ache?
Well, I admitted in the BBC2 documentary Magick – Art of Darkness that I had participated in a Gnostic mass, which involved eating a communion wafer that was dosed with menstrual blood, but I mean it wasn’t dripping or anything like that. I guess there was a little speck in there somewhere. There’s lots written about the use of sexual fluids for magickal purposes – for example in Peter Redgrove’s fascinating book The Black Goddess And The Unseen Real (1988). I don’t know if eating them or drinking them gives you something in particular. I think they’re most effective in situ rather than as an additive in a biscuit.
Perhaps it’s partly the liberating experience of breaking a taboo?
That has something to do with it, sure. Crowley talks about using sexual fluids as elixirs in his diaries. After one of his sex magick episodes he talks about the consistency of the elixir he’s produced. He even made tonic pills containing his semen. They’d probably sell very well today!
Did you continue exploring altered states after leaving the OTO?
I was interested in altered states of consciousness and consciousness in general. J.W. Dunne’s book An Experiment With Time (1927) impressed me. And again, as with magick, I thought I’d check it out by doing as he suggests. I kept a dream journal from 1980 until the mid 1990s. Dunne claimed it would demonstrate the existence of precognitive dreams. He was right – I had quite a few which I discussed in 1997 in The Quest, an American magazine. I have no theory about how this works, but my experience is that it happened so many times that I’m willing to believe that it’s common and it’s real.
In Turn Off Your Mind you say that Jung’s Philemon and Edward Kelly’s angelic visitations are strong evidence for the objective existence of an external intelligence.
I think Jung is right when he says that there are things in the mind that are not voluntary or subjective. One area of research that’s been very fruitful for me is the hypnogogic state. I read an interesting book on Swedenborg by a clinical psychologist named Wilson Van Dusen called The Presence Of Other Worlds (1974). It’s a study of the states Swedenborg got into when he was having his visions. Van Dusen experimented with them himself, and of course the Surrealists had done it with automatic writing.
I pursued them myself, and suddenly I would hear things, get sentences, or see cenes and they were clearly autosymbolic – they were not just nonsense. I recognized these things were actually metaphors of either the state I was in at the time or ideas I’d been thinking about. There was an intelligent, autonomous, recognisable process taking place. It was neither random, nor the junk disposal mechanism that some dream theorists claim. I didn’t have anything like Jung’s Philemon or Edward Kelly’s Enochian experience, but I do feel that these processes are not a result of my rational self, nor am I talking to or fooling myself.
Have you developed any reliable techniques for inducing hypnogogic states?
I used to be much better at before I had children. My two and half year old son wakes up around 6:30 so it’s hard to linger in bed in the morning, and at night I’m too knackered. Occasionally if I’m aware enough and am dozing I can access it. One example: I was reading something about Jung and Freud, and how both of them were using themes from Greek mythology in their writing about the unconscious. I started getting drowsy and lay back and drifted off. As I did so, I had an image of cellar doors gradually opening. Clearly this was an image of what was taking place: as I was becoming unconscious, I was drifting down into the basement of the mind. Suddenly the door opened up and all these mythological characters came running out: Hermes and so on. And this happened spontaneously. That convinced me.
I think you have to be as disciplined about it as you do if you’re doing meditation. There’s the Mavromatis book; there’s a chapter in Ouspensky’s (left) New Model Of The Universe and in Wilson Van Dusen’s The Natural Depth In Man (1972). I’m interested in Rudolf Steiner and think his reading of the Akashic Records were probably hypnogogic states. This isn’t to say that it’s all absolute baloney and dreaming. Mavromatis goes into this – there’s evidence that these states are conducive to psychism and precognition. At the same time, they are like dreams, so you get this combination of reliable evidence and wacky stuff.
Do you think Crowley’s encounter with the demon Choronzon, the qliphoth of the kabbalah, meetings with fairies and some alien encounters are related to this hypnogogic state?
I guess you can open that door, and who knows exactly what will come through it? As Aldous Huxley says in Heaven and Hell, the mind has its own exotic and unexplored continents. It’s subjective in the sense that it’s inside my head, but it’s objective in the sense that there are common features to this inner landscape. I think Huxley was right about this. You don’t know what’s there. I’m not trying to be scary – there’s a possibility there. There’s no reason why you should immediately encounter qliphothic entities, but Perhaps if you’re interested in that sort of thing, or your pursuits lead you in that direction you may attract that sort of form.
Perhaps certain things take certain forms in certain people’s minds?
I forget who said it first, maybe it was Blavatsky – the spirits are like the street people of the astral world – there’s nothing else going on, they’re just hanging out waiting for spare change. So it could be that things that you find might not be that interesting to spend time with.
Is this related to your research for a book on consciousness?
I noticed that my precognitive dreams came in patches and were associated with synchronicities, so I kept a coincidence notebook. Andre Mavromatis’ fascinating book Hypnagogia (1987) is a very dry academic approach, but it’s the most thorough book I’ve read about it. He postulates that hypnogogic states are an indication of a new form of consciousness emerging. Obviously they’ve been around for a very long time, but we can be more aware of them now. We have the ability to understand the mechanism behind them and can induce them.
I talk about the idea of moving into a new form of consciousness in Turn Off Your Mind in relation to Pauwels and Bergier and others. I’m interested in an obscure philosopher named Jean Gebser who wrote a massive book called The Ever Present Origin (English translation 1985). Basically he argues that throughout history you can recognize these mutations of consciousness – he calls them structures of consciousness: the archaic, the magical, the mythic, the mental. He argued that since the early 20th century we’ve been moving into what he calls the integral structure which is a synthesis of the four previous structures. One of the forms this new consciousness will take is a different understanding and experience of time, and that’s one of the themes I’m discussing in the book. It’s basically about the evolution of consciousness.
Are you interested in artificial intelligence theorists like Marvin Minsky, author of The Society of Mind (1987)?
Not really. I talk about some current scientific ideas about consciousness, but part of me wants to ask why these scientists have a monopoly on consciousness. I don’t see what computers and artificial intelligence has to do with it. For example in his book Consciousness Explained (1993) Daniel Dennett spends 500 pages arguing that consciousness doesn’t exist! Well, if he wants to argue that he’s unconscious that’s fine – but he should leave the rest of us to have our own ideas about it.
I’m not an academic and have no reputation to lose so I can say these things and not worry about it. But I think there is there is this whole scientification and monopolization of interior experience that doesn’t bode well. Once they feel that they’ve explained it then obviously there’ll be a technology built around it and they’ll put it to use in some way. And that’s dangerous. There’s no such thing as consciousness per se, I think – except perhaps in some intense mystical experiences. But if there’s your consciousness and my consciousness and the consciousness of people around us, then explaining consciousness means explaining everything. I just don’t think it can be done – there’s something very arrogant about the attempt to reduce this multiplicity to a simple explanation.
In Turn Off Your Mind, you don’t really explain why you think the sixties occult resurgence happened.
Maybe the higher spiritual intelligences thought it was time! Certainly Pauwels and Bergier wrote The Morning Of The Magicians at the right time. You had postwar dreariness, and existentialism as the intellectual flavour of the time. There was a very bleak vision of things, and so colourful occult stuff was very attractive. The Fifties were very repressed, and I think it just caught the imagination.
Mircea Eliade talks about how when Morning Of The Magicians first came out there was a feeling that this was the most exciting time in history. In the States it was connected with Kennedy’s New Frontier and the space programme. As a kid I can remember watching with rapt attention the rocket launches – it was like science fiction coming true. I thought that when I grew up I would live on Mars. There were no limits to human advancement. After Kennedy’s assassination people were looking for heroes – I think this is one reason the Beatles were so phenomenally popular – they came just at the right time when a hole had been punched in the American psyche.
The negative aspect of it is that people want to subordinate themselves to authority even if it’s an alternative authority, such as a guru or rock star. Also people feel betrayed by standard scientific and religious paradigms. They just aren’t meaningful enough.
I think the scientific message is that there is no meaning to anything: the universe is the result of an explosion that happened for no reason out of less than nothing. We’re just a meaningless hurrying of atoms. I’m not particularly satisfied by that. Although there are more optimistic scientists like John Barrow who co-wrote The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986), this is an exception. The standard model is rather bleak. Strangely, in a lot of New Age alternative thinking, especially the sort that is ecologically focussed, there is a rising misanthropy – a thought that we are not more important than other species. In that sense I think they share the idea that there is no particular meaning to human existence.
I’m not arguing for the 19th Century idea that because we’re the highest species we can do whatever we want with the planet. But I think there’s a possible danger in this kind of misanthropy propelled by a desire to save the planet. I also think that if you look at it impartially, so much of what science tells us is no less weird than what occultists have been saying. John Wheeler said that there is no outside, that somehow our subjective experience creates it in some way. I’ll be talking about things along that line in the book on consciousness. Owen Barfield called this participatory epistemology – the whole idea that consciousness participates in the world we see, that it’s not just a blank. We don’t passively reflect what’s out there – unconsciously we structure the data we receive but are unaware of these structuring mechanisms.
Being unaware of the “software” we are using to make sense of all the data we’re receiving – most of which we have to exclude from consciousness to avoid overload.
Bergson and William James were talking about that. There’s a book called The User Illusion (1998) by Tor Norretranders which suggests that our sense of self, our sense of an “I” which we experience immediately, is the result of different sorts of neural processes going on. He talks a lot about a neurophysicist called Benjamin Libet who discovered that before you or I make a mental decision to do something which we would say was a spontaneous act, the brain has a burst of electrical activity called the readiness potential. So what we consider to be spontaneous is not at all. I’m interested in this whole idea that this sense of self is structured, is presented to us.
Of course you encounter the problem of language as soon as you try to discuss these things. But the reason I’m interested in it is that these are things that have been said within the esoteric traditions in different ways but haven’t been taken seriously by people outside the esoteric spheres. They’re ignored because they were not said by scientists with a Ph.D in the field.
It also removes any sense of what the surrealist Andre Breton called “the marvellous” from existence.
Exactly. Everything is “explained.” It’s like knowing what happens at the end of a book. Suddenly you no longer want to read it.
I think this is what interests me in the occult and the paranormal – and in the Fortean Times. It doesn’t give me any answers, but it constantly reminds me that I am living in something extraordinary and marvellous, full of oddity, strangeness and absurdity.
I think that’s the reason I got into it too. I didn’t want special powers, it’s just that it seemed a much more interesting way of looking at the world. Anything that makes life more interesting will suggest that you pay more attention to it, and if you do you’ll see more of what’s there. If you assume that it’s not particularly interesting, and that we know all that needs to be known anyway, you’re not going to see anything new. It’s self-defeating to assume that everything is known.
But some occult believers share this arrogance in assuming that their model of reality is complete.
There is an unwillingness to take a broader view because it makes it more difficult to assimilate the data. When I worked at a New Age bookstore, this happened all the time. People had found THE answer – that was it. They weren’t interested in new information unless it broadly supported their existing beliefs. One of the reasons that I like Fortean Times is that although it may not agree with everything that some of the contributors say, I still find it consistently stimulating because they’re willing to explore areas that a lot of people ignore.
Another reason for the occult resurgence is surely the anxiety of uncertainty?
I think you’re right. But I guess the other side of it is that the same things that cause anxiety could give rise to wonder, awe or surprise and if you get rid of that itch to have everything figured out, then you can be open to different possibilities. The one good thing that postmodernism contributed is the idea that life is much more complex and multi-dimensional than we previously thought, and that makes life richer and more exciting.
Are you as pessimistic as you seem in the conclusion to the book?
No, I’m not. I actually don’t think I’m pessimistic in the book, just realistic. I think I’m optimistic in the long run and pessimistic about some short term issues. Again, this whole drive to explain things away – I don’t want to sound paranoid about it, but I don’t think it’s going to give rise to anything good. I am optimistic, but in terms of the book I think a lot Of the sensibilities that informed what strikes me as a reckless pursuit of occultism – what I call “endarkenment” – are still around and always will be because they’re so appealing and seductive.
Don’t you feel that life has always been pretty messy? In the book you mention William Burroughs’ injunction to “exterminate all rational thought,” but surely it’s not much of a challenge? People like to think themselves as rational and self-determining, but they’re actually driven by powerful unconscious forces.
I think there is a perennial swing between the extremes of rationalism and irrationalism or non-rationalism. In an early version of the book I mentioned the Goldilocks Theory of History: history swings back and forth between “too hot” and “too cold.” It rarely hits “just right,” and does so in individual cases rather than socially or culturally. The “just right” times are this strange blend between rationalism and the unconscious – Those are states of creative genius. This is why hypnogogic states interest me -it’s one form of having conscious access to the unconscious. It’s unlike dream states where you are given over to it. You can participate, but also see them as autonomous.
Robert Anton Wilson has advised that no one should risk practical occultism without a grounding in philosophy, general semantics and psychology. Unfortunately I don’t think people listen to that sort of advice – they just jump into the maelstrom of the unconscious and many of them drown.
That’s another reason I got out of the OTO. Some of the people I knew who were involved became completely crazy, doing violent and illegal things which they justified to themselves because they were allegedly following their True Will. I just thought it didn’t make sense.
To Lachman’s credit, he mentions the tie in between Jack Parsons, Crowley and L Ron Hubbard in his study of the 1960s Turn Off Your Mind