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Otherworld initiation: Aliens, daimons, and the rational ego

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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:

Anomalies, Materialism, and the Liberating Death of Ufology

On November 4, The Telegraph reported that the field of ufology, at least as it’s viewed and practiced in Britain, may be dead or dying:

For decades, they have been scanning the skies for signs of alien activity. But having failed to establish any evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life, Britain’s UFO watchers are reaching the conclusion that the truth might not be out there after all. Enthusiasts admit that a continued failure to provide proof and a decline in the number of “flying saucer” sightings suggests that aliens do not exist after all and could mean the end of “Ufology” — the study of UFOs — within the next decade.

— Jasper Copping, “UFO enthusiasts admit the truth may not be out there after all,” The Telegraph, November 4, 2012

This assessment comes from several expert sources, including Britain’s well-regarded Association for the Study of Anomalous Phenomena, which has scheduled a meeting to discuss the issue:

Dozens of groups interested in the flying saucers and other unidentified craft have already closed because of lack of interest and next week one of the country’s foremost organisations involved in UFO research is holding a conference to discuss whether the subject has any future. Dave Wood, chairman of the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (Assap), said the meeting had been called to address the crisis in the subject and see if UFOs were a thing of the past. “It is certainly a possibility that in ten years time, it will be a dead subject,” he added. “We look at these things on the balance of probabilities and this area of study has been ongoing for many decades. The lack of compelling evidence beyond the pure anecdotal suggests that on the balance of probabilities that nothing is out there. I think that any UFO researcher would tell you that 98 per cent of sightings that happen are very easily explainable. One of the conclusions to draw from that is that perhaps there isn’t anything there. The days of compelling eyewitness sightings seem to be over.” He said that far from leading to an increase in UFO sightings and research, the advent of the internet had coincided with a decline … The issue is to be debated at a summit at the University of Worcester on November 17 and the conclusions reported in the next edition of the association’s journal, Anomaly.

These developments are in turn linked to the recent closing of the UK’s official investigations into UFO phenomena:

The summit follows the emergence earlier this year of the news that the Ministry of Defence was no longer investigating UFO sightings after ruling there is “no evidence” they pose a threat to the UK. David Clark, a Sheffield Hallam University academic and the UFO adviser to the National Archives, said: “The subject is dead in that no one is seeing anything evidential.”

Obviously, this is all quite interesting. But more than that, it’s highly significant, and not just for people who are directly interested in UFOs. Despite the fact that the Telegraph article perpetuates the perennial rhetorical and philosophical foolishness of dividing the UFO-interested community into “believers” and “skeptics” (and also uses the word “enthusiasts” to maddening effect), it’s a very valuable piece of work, because it points to a deeply meaningful cultural moment for the study of anomalous phenomena, and also, more broadly, for our collective understanding of the relative meanings and statuses of anomalies, paranormal events, and material science. Read the rest of this entry

Initiation by Nightmare: Cosmic Horror and Chapel Perilous

When the first of my sleep paralysis attacks occurred in the early 1990s, I had no idea that it was the onset of a period that I would later come to recognize or characterize as a spontaneous shamanic-type initiation via nightmare. I didn’t know that it would shatter the psychological, spiritual, ontological, metaphysical, and interpersonal assumptions that had undergirded my worldview and daily experience for so long that I had forgotten they were assumptions instead of givens. Terence McKenna, among others, has argued that, in accordance with the same principle that keeps a fish oblivious to the existence of water, the perturbation of consciousness is necessary for us even to become aware of the reality of consciousness as such. For me this was confirmed with lasting impact by the experience of waking up from a profoundly deep sleep to encounter a darkly luminous, vaguely man-shaped outline of a being that stood over me at the foot of the bed, and that shone with sizzling rays of shadow, and that represented a thunderous and sui generis — intended solely for me — black hole of a negative singularity, a presence whose entire reason for being was to draw me in and annihilate my essence. In the manner of dreams and daemons, the experience was as much cognitive and emotional as it was perceptual. There was no separation between these usually discrete categories. Nor was there a separation between the categories of self and other, between “me” and the assaulting presence. Horror was literally all there was, all that existed, all that was real — not as a reaction to an experience but as an organic and inevitable symmetry of being. I was not horrified. The experience was purely and simply horror.

When this proved to be not an isolated episode but an ongoing crisis spanning a period of months and years, and when the psychic effects began to leak into the daylight world and contaminate daily life with a distinct and inescapable background static of creeping nightmarishness, I knew something dire had happened. I had crossed some sort of threshold, and the most likely vocabulary for thinking and talking about it was the vocabulary of cosmic horror, which had been inculcated in me by years of obsessively reading Lovecraft, Lovecraft criticism, and the works of a whole host of associated authors. As explained previously, one of the results of this confluence was my horror novelette “Teeth.”

There was, however, another vocabulary I could have used, and it would have complemented the cosmic horrific one in mutually illuminating fashion. It was the vocabulary of consciousness change and high paranormal weirdness encoded in the idea of Chapel Perilous as explicated by Robert Anton Wilson. But this didn’t occur to me until much later.
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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.

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