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Otherworld initiation: Aliens, daimons, and the rational ego


Recently I’ve been in contact with Patrick Harpur, author of, among other excellent books, Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld (which long-time readers of The Teeming Brain, and also readers of my A Course in Daemonic Creativity, will recognize as a canonical title around here). For reasons that I’ll probably explain at some future point, I’m presently poring back over my extensively marked-up copy of this book in search of powerful passages that work well in stand-alone fashion. And a moment ago I accidentally constructed a kind of mental step-stone pathway through the text that consists of three separate passages, one from Chapter 7 (“Seeing Things”), another from the epilogue (“The Golden Chain”), and the final one from Chapter 20 (“Approaching the Otherworld”).

For me, these passages, presented below as three separate paragraphs connected by ellipses, present a complete and coherent message of profound power and importance. If you ponder them slowly, they may do the same for you.

Our trouble is that we have been brought up with a literal-minded worldview. We demand that objects have only a single identity or meaning. We are educated to see with the eye only, in single vision. When the preternatural breaks in upon us, transforming the profane into something sacred, amazing, we are unequipped for it. Instead of seizing on the vision, reflecting on it — writing poetry, if necessary — we react with fright and panic. Instead of countering like with like — that is, assimilating through imagination the complexity of the image presented to us — we feebly telephone scientists for reassurance. We are told we are only “seeing things” and so we miss the opportunity to grasp that different, daimonic order of reality which lies behind the merely literal.

. . . The tradition which forms the background to this book is hard to describe, because it has no name. We might tentatively call it, for convenience, the daimonic tradition.  Although it appears in many disciplines, such as theology, philosophy, psychology, aesthetic theory, and so on, it is not itself a discipline. It is not a body of knowledge or a system of thought. Rather it is a way of knowing and thinking, a way of seeing the world, which poets and visionaries have always possessed but which even they cannot stand outside of or formulate. Thus one cannot be taught the tradition, for example, as part of a university curriculum; one can only be initiated into it. Simply finding it out for oneself can be, like a quest, an act of self-initiation.

. . . Initiation can be thought of as a general term for any daimonic event which realigns our conscious viewpoint of the world, and introduces it to the Otherworld. If we identify ourselves with the rational ego, then the initiation will be — has to be — correspondingly fierce in order to introduce the whole notion of an otherworldly, daimonic reality. Alienated, we have to be — forcibly, if necessary, it seems — alienized. For, from the daimonic standpoint, we as rational egos are aliens while the aliens, the daimons, are part of ourselves. Alienizing means daimonizing: the rational ego is replaced by a daimonic ego which can slip into different shapes, different perspectives — all daimonic but all defining, and being defined by, soul in multifarious ways. Alienizing means being at ease with the aliens because one is an alien oneself.

For reflections on and specific illustrations of this theme in a variety of contexts, I recommend the following items by various Teeming Brain contributors, some of whom offer quite personal accounts of the type of thing Patrick writes about above:

Publication imminent: ‘Daimonic Imagination, Uncanny Intelligence’


I’m pleased to report that the publication of the book Daimonic Imagination: Uncanny Intelligence, which will feature my essay/paper “In Search of Higher Intelligence: The Daemonic Muse(s) of Aleister Crowley, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson,” is imminent. The book is edited by Angela Voss and William Rowlandson, former co-directors of the Centre for the Study of Myth at the University of Kent. It consists mostly of papers presented at the 2011 conference they convened at the university under the same name as the book title. With my enduring interest in daimonic matters, I was quite disappointed when I heard and read about the conference a couple of years ago and knew that I wouldn’t be able to make the trip across the Atlantic to attend and participate. So it was a pleasure when Angela contacted me afterward with a request to include my paper, which was then going through the peer review process for publication in Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, in the forthcoming book.

Today she sent a note to contributors letting us know that the book’s publication is right around the corner, perhaps as early as this month. Here are its description and contents. It looks like a rich feast indeed, and I’m proud to be aboard (and am raring to read the whole thing).


From the artistic genius to the tarot reader, a sense of communication with another order of reality is commonly attested; this “other” may be termed god, angel, spirit, muse, daimon or alien, or it may be seen as an aspect of the human imagination or the “unconscious” in a psychological sense. This volume of essays celebrates the daimonic presence in a diversity of manifestations, presenting new insights into inspired creativity and human beings’ relationship with mysterious and numinous dimensions of reality. In art and literature, many visual and poetic forms have been given to the daimonic intelligence, and in the realm of new age practices, encounters with spirit beings are facilitated through an increasing variety of methods including shamanism, hypnotherapy, mediumship and psychedelics. The contributors to this book are not concerned with “proving” or “disproving” the existence of such beings. Rather, they paint a broad canvas with many colours, evoking the daimon through the perspectives of history, literature, encounter and performance, and showing how it informs, and has always informed, human experience.


Preface (Geoffrey Cornelius)

Introduction (Angela Voss and William Rowlandson)

Part I: Daimonic History

1. When Spirit Possession is Sexual Encounter: The Case for a Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece (Marguerite Rigoglioso)

2. Encounters at the Tomb: Visualizing the Invisible in Attic Vase Painting (Diana Rodríguez Pérez)

3. Parodying the Divine: Exploring the Iconography of the Cult of the Kabeiroi in the Ancient Greek World (Kirsten M. Bedigan)

4. Of Cosmocrators and Cosmic Gods: The Place of the Archons in De mysteriis (Christopher A. Plaisance)

5. “Showeth Herself all Naked”: Madimi in John Dee’s Conversations with Spirits (Stephanie Spoto)

6.  Burke’s Aesthetics of the Spirit (Simon Wilson)

7.  Uncanny Intelligence in Psychoanalysis and Divination (Maggie Hyde)

8.  The Scientific Approach of F. W. H. Myers to the Study of Mystical Experiences, Divination and Psi, and its Value to Psychology (Terence J. Palmer )

Part II: Daimonic Literature

9. Definitive Demons: Frankenstein and Dracula as Ultimate Representations of the “Monstrous Other” (Vered Weiss)

10. Sceptical Scepticism: Reason and Uncanny Experience in Scottish Fiction (Kenneth Keir )

11. The Daimonic in W. B. Yeats (Chiara Reghellin)

12. But Who is That on the Other Side of You? The Daimonic Sources of Consciousness in Literature and Dreams (Wojciech Owczarski )

13. “Necessary Monsters”: Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings and the Ontology of the Daimonic (William Rowlandson)

14. Privileging the “Other”: Illicit Forms of Knowledge in the Detective Fiction of Reginald Hill (Hilary A. Goldsmith)

Part III: Daimonic Encounter

15. Fireflies and Shooting Stars: Visual Narratives of Daimonic Intelligence (Angela Voss )

16. In Search of Higher Intelligence: The Daimonic Muse(s) of Aleister Crowley, Timothy Leary, and Robert Anton Wilson (Matt Cardin)

17. So long as you’ve got your Elf: Death, DMT and Discarnate Entities (David Luke)

18. C. G. Jung, Tibetan Tantra and the Great Goddess: An Exploration of Sacred Entities and Archetypes (Judson Davis)

19. Cultural Variation of the Feminine in Psychedelic Personification (Cameron Adams)

20. Daimonic Ecologies: An Inquiry into the Relationships between the Human and Nonphysical Species (Alex Rachel )

Part IV: Daimonic Performance

21. Seeing Voices: Elucidating the Unconscious via Tarot Hermeneutic with Jung and Deleuze (Inna Semetsky )

22. Imaginal Inquiry: Meetings with the Imaginative Intelligence (Marie Angelo)

23. Imaginal Doorway: Seeking a Daimonic Theatre using Dramatherapy (Toby Chown)

24. Numinous Conversations: Performance and Manifestation of Spirits in Spirit Possession Practices (Jack Hunter)

25. The Call of the Spirit: The Training and Practice of Sangomas in Relation to an Astrologer’s Vocation (Darby Costello)

26. Spirit and Shaman: Altered Consciousness and the Development of Creativity (Zoë Brân)


Horror, meaning, and madness: Dangers of lifting the cosmic veil

(Liminalities, Cycle 1, Part 2)

In my novelette “Teeth” — first published at Thomas Ligotti Online, then in The Children of Cthulhu, and then in expanded form in my Dark Awakenings — there’s a scene where the narrator reads a notebook filled with ruminations on the convergence of philosophy and religion with cosmic horror, all interwoven with an examination of the same issues in the context of quantum physics. He’s a graduate student in philosophy, but the reading of these things initiates a transformative change in his psychic constitution and gives him a different sort of philosophical education than the one he had previously pursued.

He summarizes the notebook’s scientific content and import like this:

The mathematical work was beyond me, but from his text notes I could gather enough to grasp the bare essence of the matter, which had something to do with the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics. I read that the equations used in this science are straightforward and uncontested in terms of their practical applications, as attested by everything from television to the hydrogen bomb, but that no satisfactory explanation for their meaning, their overall implications at the macroscopic level of existence, had yet been established. On the subatomic level, I read, particles flash into and out of existence for no discernible reason, and the behavior of any single particle is apparently arbitrary and usually unpredictable.  If there is a cause or “purpose” behind this behavior, then it is one that the human mind is, to all appearances, structurally prevented from comprehending.  In other words, for all we know, the fundamental ruling principles at the most basic level of physical reality may well be what our minds and languages must necessarily label “chaos” and “madness.” [1]

When I first wrote those lines in the mid-1990s, I was enwrapped in a pattern of inner and outer events and circumstances — personal, professional, psychological, spiritual — that seemed either shriekingly meaningless or evilly intended, and I was utterly unable to decide which possibility, nihilism or a malevolent cosmos, seemed more likely, and also, pointedly, which one seemed worse. And amid the indecision, regardless of the causes, I was suffering.

Read the rest of this entry

Beware: UFOs can blow a hole in your reality

In Daimonic Reality, Patrick Harpur eloquently describes the surreal, dreamlike feeling that almost always pervades paranormal experiences, including UFO encounters. He also dwells at some length on the implications for our understanding of reality itself.

Although the same level of philosophical focus isn’t evident in a recent article about UFO encounters from the Union newspaper of western Nevada County, California, the article still does an excellent job of conveying just how bizarre these incidents (incursions? intrusions? eruptions?) can seem to conventional consciousness, and just how prone they are to producing profound changes in one’s thoughts, perceptions, and worldview.

“Back in 1965, I got off work at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel (in South Lake Tahoe) and a chum who rode to work with me and I went up Kingsbury to go home after midnight and all of a sudden the sky lit up,” Edwards said. “I thought that maybe there had been an explosion or a fire. We kept going for about a block and then saw this thing come over the mountains. It lit everything up like one of those torches used for welding. It came right at us and I thought it was going to hit us.”

Edwards was not able to see much more than an outline of the object because the light emanating from it was nearly blinding. “It was huge, not quite as long as my house and it was round,” Edwards said. “It came right over us and then stopped like it was looking at us for a second. There was no sound. Then it was gone. My friend and I looked at each other and we said, ‘That was a UFO.’ It had gotten so close to us that I swear with a ladder I could have reached up and poked it.”

Edwards then did what any artist would do. “I was so shook up that I went home and decided that I had better write down what I had seen,” Edwards said.

…“When it happens, your mind almost stops, because it’s such a shock,” Edwards said. “It’s hard to explain — really hard to explain.”

Full story at the Union.

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This I Believe: An uber-agnostic on religion, psychology, consciousness, the paranormal, and the meaning of life

Image: I Want to BelieveIt has come to my attention that although I write all the time about religion, philosophy, spirituality, psychology, consciousness, culture, the paranormal, and other idea-based subjects, my own position on any or all of them generally comes off as obscure.

ITEM: My friend Kim Paffenroth, the religion scholar and zombie horror author, has characterized me as “deeply but ambiguously spiritual.”

ITEM: When I was interviewed in March 2010 by Lovecraft News Network about the half-fictional and half-academic combination of horror and religious speculation contained in my then-forthcoming (and now published) book Dark Awakenings, Christian Horror Blog linked to the interview, quoted my claim that “what has long interested me is the speculation that maybe there’s something fundamentally horrific about God or the Ground of Being from the human perspective,” and then commented, “It is unclear where exactly Cardin stands on these issues, other than to say he is thinking deeply about them.”

ITEM: Last Christmas when I was visiting my mother and her husband in Arkansas for the holidays, one of my cousins-in-law, who happens to be a charismatic-evangelical Christian preacher, and also a fun and smart guy to talk to, engaged me in a conversation about my personal religious beliefs that still has my wife cringing in recollection. As she later put it (and has sometimes said of me in different contexts), “You talked in circles!”

Of course I know that I tend to abet such perceptions, especially when I say things like the following, which appeared in the aforementioned LNN interview: “Note that whenever I talk about these things, I do so hypothetically, in a kind of philosophical hyperspace. I’m not saying I actually believe in this type of cosmic-horrific situation. But I’m not saying I don’t, either.” Yes, I can see how it might seem that I’m deliberately being coy when I talk that way.

But in point of fact, I’m not being coy at all, but am just stating things the way they appear to me. Apparently as a genetic fact, whether physiological or psychological, I’m an incurable agnostic about most things. The reason that I tend to state everything in hypothetical terms is that I think and deeply feel in those terms. I find it natural, in fact reflexively so, to put mental brackets or quotes around any answers offered to any and all questions about religion etc.

How come?

On Robert Anton Wilson and not believing anything

As a long aside, I could speculate — again with brackets or quotes around it — that perhaps I’ve been slyly reprogrammed to think-feel-see things this way by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea via their Illuminatus! trilogy. After all, they claim as much in one of the appendices to that Moby Dickian masterpiece of mind-blowing counterphilosophy: “This book, being part of the only serious conspiracy it describes — that is, part of Operation Mindfuck — has programmed the reader in ways that he or she will not understand for a period of months (or perhaps years).” I first read Illuminatus! in 1988. Then I went on to read the rest of Wilson’s considerable body of work over the next decade. Did this maybe help to engender my thoroughgoing worldview-agnosticism? After all, it was Wilson who devoted the first few paragraphs of the new preface to the 1986 edition of what may be his chief work, Cosmic Trigger, to a rigorous clarification of where he stood on the issue of belief as such, since many of his readers continued to assume, 10 years’ after the book’s first publication, that he really did believe in the various paranormal matters, conspiracy theories, and other wacky things that he wrote about:

I want to make it clearer than ever before that I DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING. . . . It seems to be a hangover of the medieval Catholic era that causes most people, even the educated, to think that everybody must “believe” something or other, that if one is not a theist, one must be a dogmatic atheist, and if one does not think Capitalism is perfect, one must believe fervently in Socialism, and if one does not have blind faith in X, one must alternatively have blind faith in not-X or the reverse of X.

My own attitude is that belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence.

….Belief in the tradition sense, or certitude, or dogma, amounts to the grandiose delusion, “My current model” — or grid, or map, or reality-tunnel — “contains the whole universe and will never need to be revised.” In terms of the history of science and knowledge in general, this appears absurd and arrogant to me, and I am perpetually astonished that so many people still manage to live with such a medieval attitude.

Yep, that describes my own axiomatic agnosticism pretty well.

On Lovecraft, cosmic horror, and the cracking open of one’s personal cosmic egg

And/but, I was recently spurred to really try and articulate what I think about matters of religion etc. when the proprietor of the blog TheoPhantasmagoria sent me an email to let me know that he had created a post (“Lovecraft, Meet Yahweh: The Biblical Book of Isaiah as a Horror Story“) revolving around my reading of Isaiah as a cosmic horror story. He closed his email by asking, “Just out of interest, what are your beliefs?”

Normally I would have deflected such a question with some sort of vague comment. But this time, for some reason, it just seemed natural to answer. So I typed, and typed, and then typed some more — and found that my answer had rapidly grown into a concise but detailed — and, I’m afraid, dry and technical-sounding — explanation of precisely how I see things.

So for those who may be wondering, here’s the breathlessly awaited statement to dispel the specter of my deep but ambiguous spirituality once and for all:

Regarding my beliefs, I don’t really have any beliefs as such when it comes to supernaturalism, spirituality, religion, etc. When I say that, be advised that I’m using the word “belief” to mean an intellectual/emotional assent to, or clinging to, a certain set of propositions about reality. The very word implies a kind of arbitrary choice: “Some people believe this. Other people believe that. I believe the other thing.” At root I’m not interested in beliefs but in what’s self-evidently true, so that’s it’s not a matter of belief or disbelief but of simple, incontrovertible verification. In the objective realm of physical nature, that’s determined by empirical science. In the subjective realm of inner space or interiority, that’s determined by coming to an understanding of the givens of both the human perceptual apparatus and, more intimately, the deep structure of the human psyche that not only shapes the interpretation of external space-time perceptions but, more intimately and significantly, provides its own content to consciousness in the form of the Jungian collective archetypes and such.

So what does this mean for paranormal stuff? It means that, based on the fact of the age-old accounts of such things, which indicates that something’s really going on, people really can and do see ghosts, angels, demons, elves, cryptids, UFOs, aliens, etc. — but that these phenomena are as much internal as external. They probably inhabit a kind of liminal zone between subjective and objective, the realm that Patrick Harpur has memorably dubbed “daimonic reality.”

So are they real? This understanding of them puts that word in scare quotes and foregrounds the usually muted issue of ontology. Somebody who has really and pointedly become aware of what Jung called the objectivity of the psyche recognizes that this aspect of life categorically eludes the conventional polarity of real and unreal that’s a fact of objective daily life, precisely because the daimonic stuff hails from a part of psychic space that 1) precedes, dwarfs, encompasses, and transcends the conscious ego that observes the external world and analyzes and discriminates among things there, including questions of reality and unreality, and 2) emerges right from the substratum of Being itself, so it somehow bridges the gap between conventionally real and unreal by appearing as a real projection in the psyche that’s not just the product of individual fancy or imagination.

I could also add that as far as a general religious/spiritual/philosophical attitude toward life and living goes, I’m pretty much a Zen Christian agnostic. The ultimate and universal point of life is clear perception, pure seeing from the center of Being outward: awakening to awakeness, Buddha nature, Christ consciousness. The ultimate and specific point of life for each of us as unique individuals is to live this limited, differentiated bodymind existence as an experience of that clear absolute awareness knowing itself through a finite point of entry into the objective world. In other words, to learn to be fully immersed in this experience while remaining fully cognizant of one’s identity as that basic, pure, absolute seeingness. This is encapsulated in various guises in the teachings and practices of Christianity, Buddhism, certain schools of depth psychotherapy (see Carl Jung and James Hillman), the current neo-advaita philosophical-spiritual movement — not to mention traditional Advaita Vedanta — and other traditions.

And that’s it. To quote Edward R. Murrow: THIS I believe.

Any questions?

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Image credits: “Bigfoot Crossing” used under Creative Commons from Chiceaux