After writing the last post I wanted to find out more about Jonathan Black and his book (which I am now 160 pages into and enjoying – more later when I reach the end – it’s a remarkable and unusual book). I found a scathing review about it on salon.com by Laura Miller that ended amusingly. And here is what one commentator noted after reading her piece:
As a Master Mason and son of one of an extremely well-known and highly advanced member of Scottish Rite Freemasonry (who was also for most of his life a practicing Christian Scientist but finally got cured of it) I found this article a huge breath of fresh air.
I also found the last sentence or so of the piece profoundly insightful and perhaps even worthy of an initiate of one or more of the interrelated “secret” societies which actually serve some useful function, specifically this:
“Most people will still choose to believe in something ‘more,’ whether it’s the ninefold [she means eightfold] path of the Buddha or the pillars of Islam or pyramid power. Chances are that whatever they choose will sound ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t also believe. That’s something religion has always had in common with sex: If you’re not into it, it looks silly. Which explains why all the really clever people do it behind closed doors.”
Religion has a lot in common with sex. The purest religion does not separate itself from sex at all. In this remarkably prurient yet puritanical culture of ours, it really is clever to keep both strictly sub rosa. More fun, too. AJCalhoun
Rather like worrying about the end of the world because of environmental degradation, some of those involved in the reading, writing and publishing world worry about the death of the book. Something is definitely going on, and Jonathan Black, author of ‘The Secret History of the World’, who is not-so-secretly really Mark Booth, head of the Random House imprint Century, has written a fascinating and provocative article about this in The Independent. He makes a convincing case for the imminent collapse of the High Street book chains, and for the demise of the printed book. He links all this skilfully to the esoteric tradition and the rise of the internet.
But what I can’t understand about the theory of the imminent collapse of book-reading is why in that case more and more books are published every year – hundreds of thousands of new titles in English alone. And of course Jonathan Black’s book is selling like hotcakes…
Despite my scepticism, have a look at his article – it’s well worth reading. Here’s how it opens. Follow the link to the full article.
The first printed book in the middle of the 15th century illumined human consciousness like no other technological innovation. Knowledge would no longer be available only to a churchy elite. Freedom of thought, freedom of opinion and creative imagination would evade any attempt to control it. If people had once drifted away on clouds of incense, they were now liberated by the smell of ink.
The evidence in 2008, however, suggests that book reading is in decline. I have worked in publishing for some 25 years and have also recently published a book of my own, conscious that it may be one of the last books. I think some people in the business don’t want to admit that it’s happening. To them it seems a betrayal of skills and standards that generations worked hard to maintain. They see apathy, short attention spans, illiteracy – what Auberon Waugh called the “proletarianisation” of Britain.
But to me these signs are pointing the way to a revolution more radical than Caxton’s. The human mind is about to be turned inside out, opening up new dimensions of consciousness to anyone who isn’t determined to keep the door shut.
Last night Borders Books in Brighton hosted the launch party for ‘Sacred Places’ which has just been published by Quercus. Here’s the text of the brief talk I gave to introduce the book:
The Pure Land itself is near…
Truly, is anything missing now?
Nirvana is right here, before our eyes,
This very place is the Lotus Land,
This very body, the Buddha Hakuin’s Song of Zazen
This is the quotation that opens the book and it goes right to the heart of the book’s purpose – to help us appreciate the awe, the mystery that exists in Place – everywhere in fact, but somehow mysteriously, more accessibly in some places rather than others, which we then call ‘Sacred Places’.
In considering Sacred Places, we find that geography and human history meet, and often the story of the individuals who have discovered, created, or interacted with these places turns out to be as fascinating as the place itself. Let me give you some examples:
It’s 1994 and Mr Chauvet and a few friends are caving in SW France. They pause for a break in a rather uninteresting shallow cave, and one of them notices a faint draught coming from the rear of the cave wall. They pick away at it and they become the first humans for millennia to stumble their way into a 500 metre cave system filled with paintings 15,000 years older than the famous Lascaux paintings.
Let’s go further back in time, two years to 1992, and you’re with the Italian police with a stick of dynamite in your hand. You are raiding a temple complex that has been built in secret in the Valchiusella Valley over a 14 year period, and your police chief has threatened to blow it up if the builders don’t reveal the secret stairway that leads from the antechamber to the complex of temples beneath. Once inside you are dazzled to find halls filled with mirrors and crystals and the largest Tiffany ceilings in the world.
But once you bring human beings into any equation of course you have not only creativity and eccentricity, but also both tragedy and hopefulness.
A lot of books on sacred sites focus only their attractive features, but we do them a disservice if we ignore the political and environmental issues that surround many of them.
Let me tell you perhaps the saddest story related to a site in the book, then to cheer you up one of the most hopeful, and I’ll finish with a glimpse into a site that has provoked perhaps the most eccentric activity of all.
In the Sierra Nevada of northern Colombia a group of indigenous inhabitants, which include the Kogi, managed to flee the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century, to carry on their way of living undisturbed. In the 1980s they started to notice that the glaciers were melting and they decided to break their silence to warn the world of the environmental dangers they believed could render the world infertile. A BBC producer Alan Ereira visited them and wrote a book and made a documentary that was aired in 1990 entitled ‘From the Heart of the World – The Elder Brothers’ Warning’. In it he conveyed their stark message: ‘The Kogi make no predictions. They say only that if we do not change, they truly believe the world will die. It will cease to be fertile.’ Well we all know what has happened since 1990, and although as a result of the publicity given to the Kogi’s message 67,000 acres of their traditional lands have been brought into collective ownership and cleaned up, the reality is that the area is now a zone of conflict between the military and guerrilla fighters, drug cartels continue their activities there and the glaciers have almost completely disappeared. As Ereira gloomily says: ‘There is no hidden world any more.’
Let’s move from hopelessness to hope. The community who tunnelled away in secret in Valchiusella in Italy through the 1980s has now grown into a confederation of 30 small communities who are moving towards becoming self-sufficient in energy. They run their own schools and currency, grow their own food, and are involved in reforestation projects. In 2005 they won a United Nations award as a model of excellence for sustainable communities. Their exotic temples act as a spiritual focus for their work, which includes offering healing and meditation classes.
Finally – the site that has provoked the most eccentricity. This has to be Palenque in Mexico. This Mayan city flourished from the 4th to the 8th century, and although a dozen temples have now been discovered, much of the city still remains buried in the jungle. As one visitor described it: “Surrounded by lush tropical forest and jungle, this site has a serene, mystical atmosphere. From the moment you enter, you feel engulfed by a sense of history, timelessness and awe.” It was here that the self-styled Count Maximilien de Waldeck lived on top of one of the temple ziggurats for 2 years before returning to France to produce a lavish tome, which reproduced his drawings of the site and publicised his theory that the temples were built by one of the lost tribes of Israel. The count was also fascinated by erotic art and loved women. He died in his eighties when he spotted a beautiful woman walking along the Champs Elysee. He decided to chase after her and sadly keeled over in the attempt.
A century before the eccentric count published his book, a Spanish visitor claimed he had found a lost city of Atlantis there, and a century after, the infamous Erich von Daniken published his book ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ which suggested that the sarcophagus lid of king Pacal, that lies at the heart of the site in the Temple of Inscriptions, depicted a spaceman who had come to land to help build the city. Incredibly, even recently, von Daniken was able to raise millions of dollars to create a ‘Mystery Park’ in Switzerland that ran for three years before closing in 2006 and that included a replica sarcophagus lid as a central attraction. A leading member of the Swiss Academy of Sciences called it a ‘Cultural Chernobyl.’
As well as recounting stories of eccentricity, and looking at some of the problems that surround many of these sites, above all I hope that the book will act as an inspiration to engage in an activity which has sometimes been derided but which I think needs to be reinstated as not only worthwhile but indeed ethically and spiritually laudable. I’m talking about armchair travel. It’s cheaper than more mundane methods of travel, more environmentally-friendly, and perhaps in this way we can even emulate those great mystics of the Himalayas who, while deep in meditation, are said to be able to visit whatever spot on earth they wish. Hopefully in a small way this book can act as an aid to such an activity.
I opened this talk with the quotation that begins the book, so I’ll end with its closing quotation which comes from one of the most inspiring spiritual travel books ever written – Lama Anagarika’s ‘The Way of the White Clouds’:
Who can put into words the immensity of space? Who can put into words a landscape that breathes this immensity? – where vast blue lakes, set in emerald-green pastures and golden foothills, are seen against a distant range of snow mountains, in the centre of which rises the dazzling dome of Kailas, the ‘Jewel of the Snows’, as the Tibetans call the holy mountain. Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds
It was good to see so many friends at the launch, but I’m worried by the effect that simply holding the book seems to be having on some of them:
When asked how it was that Native Americans were able to discover—without the aid of modern science—the medicinal properties of hundreds of indigenous herbs and plants, the Shoshone healer Rolling Thunder explained that the secret was quite simple: a medicine man addressed the plant and asked it, in the “I and thou” dialogue of his “concrete science,” what it was good for, what power it contained. We must learn, without embarrassment, to do the same with books. Andrei Codrescu has suggested that we need to learn to “use books as oracles. Ask them a question: open them up.”
“Properly, we shd. read for power,” Ezra Pound insisted. “Man reading shd. be man intensely alive. The book shd. be a ball of light in one’s hands.”
The worlds of stage magic – conjuring – and of ‘spiritual magic’ may seem completely unconnected, but there is something that links them, and that something is starting to fascinate a number of ‘mentalists’ and magicians, such as the Druid Mark Townsend, who is also a Christian priest. Mark is an enormously gifted magician and author whose website is here.
And here in this short clip you can watch a magician’s school in which the connection between the deeper mysteries and stage magic is explored:
The world is a very odd place isn’t it? The older I get the more bewilderingly odd it seems to become.
The other day an old friend of mine told me that her son had called her, asking her to go into the Gents Toilet at their local Starbucks to pick up the secret monitoring equipment he had left in a cubicle. He is paid to go into branches and to buy coffee and cakes for quality control purposes. He takes them into the toilet and weighs the cakes with a scale and tests the temperature of the coffee with a thermometer. This time he’d left the scales and thermometer in the cubicle and was trying to reclaim them.
As if this isn’t odd enough look at the following!
The Associated Press reports that the FBI has started cracking down on a widespread insurance scam in which hospitals fill up their beds with homeless people posing as patients, and then charge government programs for the costs.
Hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange counties submitted phony Medicare and Medi-Cal bills for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless patients — including drug addicts and the mentally ill — recruited from downtown’s Skid Row, state and federal authorities allege.
While treating minor problems that did not require hospitalization, such as dehydration, exhaustion or yeast infections, the hospitals allegedly kept homeless patients in beds for as long as three days and charged the government for the stays.
Put that together with this report from Jan 2008 which described how hospitals frequently employ fake patients in order to spy on doctors and check out whether they’re doing what they should be. The problem is that sometimes the real patients in the emergency room are stuck in line behind the fake patients.
A friend of ours, the talented musician and composer Dirk Campbell, who has played for the Royal Shakespeare Company and who writes film scores, has just allowed himself to be arrested in defence of his human rights, by refusing to be searched by the police when trying to exercise his right to visit a legally organised camp in a field.
At the recent Climate Change Camp the police set up a large marquee and insisted on searching every single person who entered the camp. This resulted in 1-4 hours delay as a vast queue built up as each person had their luggage poked through by policemen wearing rubber gloves. If you watch the film clip below you’ll see it was quite clearly an operation designed to obstruct the camp. As you watch it, ask yourself “Whose interests are the police representing? Why does the issue of people protesting over climate change warrant this response?”
What a sad indictment of our government and the police that they feel it necessary to do this to prevent people protesting about the fact that we are destroying the environment. It is shameful and simply reinforces reinforces any sense we might have that we are moving closer and closer to Orwell’s vision of 1984.
An Eco-Storm production-Exposing government tactics in reaction to environmental protests. Tactics shown in the film include arresting journalists and environmental protesters, Espionage, news manipulation and legal threats.
Here’s a curiosity for writers who wrestle with trying to find out who wrote what. Quotations are wonderful ways to illustrate points – to offer ‘seed ideas’ – and to start chapters or sections of a book. But every so often, finding out the true author of a quote turns into a detective hunt.
Take the very popular ‘Work like you don’t need the money.Dance like no one is watching…’ quotation. Who wrote it? Here are some versions of it:
Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth.
Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt, live like there is no tomorrow, dance like no one is watching.
You’ve got to live like there’s no tomorrow, love like you’ve never been hurt, and dance like no one is watching.
Love like you have never been hurt; work like you don’t need the money; and dance like no one is watching.
Dance like no one is watching, Love like you’ll never be hurt, Sing like no one is listening, Live like it’s heaven on earth.
If anyone is a Mark Twain fan and has read the quote in one of his books or letters, then I think that would clinch it!
When Will Worthington painted the images for The DruidCraft Tarot we asked him to create new images for three of them: The Magician, Cernunnos (The Devil in other decks) and Strength. It was only later that we realised that these three are actually the first in each of the series of seven cards that the Major Arcana can be divided into:
1-7 being associated with Bardic work, 8-14 with Ovate work, and 15-21 with Druid work. This means that three DruidCraft Tarot paintings by Will have never been seen, but just before Lughnasadh Will donated his original painting, beautifully framed, of Cernunnos to The Museum of Witchcaft in Boscastle Cornwall. Here’s news of it from their website diary:
Yesterday afternoon, we had a wonderful visit from artist Will Worthington who donated an original painting of Cernunnos and some prints of his paintings which were used for Phillip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm’s DruidCraft Tarot. This Cernunnos was originally painted for the Tarot but a different image was finally used in the actual deck. I believe there is a new Druid Plant Oracle coming out soon. The painting will be placed in the Horned God section as soon as it is catalogued & Graham has been keen to get a tarot display happening for some time – maybe this will spur him on.