Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Evidence of an Afterlife?

For me, this is the big one: the question at the top of my list. It addresses my greatest fears and contains my greatest doubts. In short, I'm obsessed.

I was about to launch into a catalogue of evidence but, of course, others have gone before me and done a great job, so why re-invent the wheel. I'll link to those pages and I'll add a few extras - I do hope that you will find the time to follow up on some of these stories, if you have not done so already.

Important: Additional material is coming in ...

Dave Haith has supplied additional material which can be found below (scroll down). This includes videos and links to the Scole Experiments and other evidence. Please take a look - it is really worthwhile.

Nick West has also contributed some text and video links concerning the famous case of the Enfield Poltergeist which is well documented and well worth your attention. See below.

Stop Worrying! There Probably is an Afterlife

Greg Taylor of The Daily Grail has written an excellent book on the subject which serves as both a primer and a reminder that the evidence is out there, no matter how many attempts are made to dismiss and debunk it.

There is an excerpt here which is also a tidy little summary:

So, to take Greg's lead and follow his list, here are some extra links and videos that should have you pondering. Some of these will not be new to everyone who reads this but I'll include them for those who have not seen them.


For those interested and willing to examine the scientific evidence and arguments, Chris Carter's book Science and the Near Death Experience is invaluable. Buy it, borrow it, steal it (no!) - just read it.

The BBC did an uncharacteristically unbiased job of reporting the Pam Reynolds case. Unfortunately, reverting to type, they later refused to re-broadcast it and withdrew the DVD from sale. 

The Day I Died - NDE - Consciousness Documentary by spiritsandbeyond

The following is a 6 part series containing some good testimonials (watch on YouTube for the other 5 parts):

Peak-in-Darien Experiences

Michael Prescott has a long running blog that discusses all that we discuss at our meetings and more. This particular article discusses Peak-in-Darien:


I doubt I can improve on Greg's summary of mediumship. Most readers will have heard of or visited a medium and may or may not have been impressed. But, around the turn of the 20th. century, the public interest in all things spiritual was at its peak. Respected scientists were all too willing to investigate - mostly with the aim of debunking but some came away convinced in the opposite direction. Greg mentions Leonora Piper and here is another book dealing with her case:

Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife

Here is another famous case you might have heard about:

Eileen Garrett & The R101 and Michael Prescott on the R101

Death Bed Phenomena

Again complimenting Greg's summary, a few links to more information.

Paranormalia Blog (Robert McLuhan): Deathbed Visions 

Peter Fenwick is mentioned by both Greg and Robert and here he is at TEDX talking about this subject:

Additional Material supplied by Dave Haith


NOT TO BE MISSED documentary. Breakthrough scientific evidence for the afterlife. The Scole Experiments. For five years a group of mediums and scientists witnessed more phenomena than in any other experiment in the history of the paranormal, including recorded conversations with the dead, written messages on sealed film, video of spirit faces and even spirit forms materializing. These experiments may finally convince you there is life after death. The scientific team in change of overseeing these experiments include world renowned Cambridge Scientist - Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, Dr. David Fontana and Researcher Montague Keen who died during the filming of the documentary


An excellent free web documentary on EVP and ITC  (Electronic Voice Phenomenon and Instrumental Transcommunication) and general life after death shot and directed by Dan Drasin (click "Watch on Vimeo" if it doesn't play here).

Calling Earth (July 2014 Version) from Daniel Drasin on Vimeo.

EVP and ITC are alleged electronic sound or vision communication with the dead. A dedicated website is here:

Dan has recently added one more new sequence to his film (included in the updated version, above) which involves controversial Dutch psychic Robbert van den Broeke who claims to be able to capture images of deceased people – and much more besides - on digital cameras.

In the sequence Dan sets up an experiment in which he provides the cameras and memory cards as he films Robbert in action capturing an image of EVP  dead pioneer Frederick Jurgenson.


My friend Tom Harrison - who died a few years ago - is featured in this home shot video telling the story of his home spirit circle.

Tom was a great character and I helped a little in writing the beginning of his book Life After Death - Living Proof.

Over many years Tom claimed hundreds of physical materialisations at his home family circle.
The group also experienced many apports - physical objects teleported into the seance room.
As you will see from the film there were several witnesses to these extraordinary happenings some photos and a few recordings. I realise this is all too much for many of you to even consider is possible but do watch Tom's accounts and wonder....


Witness Testimony from Emeritus Professor Ivor Grattan-Guinness

Some years ago I attended a study day in London organised by the Society for Psychical Research and was impressed by the testimony of this professor. In this sequence he tells of his amazing encounter with 'spirit lights' ...

Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Ivor Gratton-Guinness, attended The Scole Experiment sessions. His witness testimony, to 'The Scole Experiment' author, Grant Solomon - at The Scole Debate in London - confirms that he had grabbed several pea-sized flying orbs of light in his cupped hands in an effort to prove to himself that they were not attached to fibre-optic cords or part of some other magician's device. He confirms that, to his utter amazement, the glowing orbs were NOT attached to anything. In fact, they proceeded to buzz about inside his cupped hands as if alive. When the professor released them, the orbs flew off around the room again.

These and many more incredible events are recorded in the updated 2006 edition of The Scole Experiment, published by Campion Books.  'The Scole Experiment: Scientific Evidence for Life After Death' is a book covering the whole five-year experiment and, for further recommended reading, go to:

... and

Rupert Sheldrake

Finally for those who love Rupert Sheldrake, here is the man talking about his experience at the Scole Experiment - slightly disjointed because they took segments of this for The Afterlife Investigations film featured above. But this is well worth watching - about half an hour ...

Nick West: The Enfield Poltergeist

With a discussion on life after death coming up I feel that no such discussion would be complete without mention of 'The Enfield Poltergeist'. A series of paranormal happenings in an ordinary council house in North London that lasted 14 months from the end of August 1977. I expect that this is familiar to most of you, however even those who have come across this story will I am sure, like myself, enjoy the re-visit. 

From telekinesis through levitation to channelling everything is here. The second video I found interesting owing to the 'resident sceptic's' reaction. Not even a witness to any of the events she condescended to trot out the same old same old delusion and fraud arguments; "we  can all misinterpret what we think we can see and believe what we want to". This doesn't, of course explain how several people in a room, one of whom was a policewoman who made a full report, can all experience a chair levitating  and moving 3 to 4 feet. And the experience be delusion or fraud, especially as a thorough check for the latter was made following the event.

The third I found interesting because it is from the late Maurice Grosse himself,
and contains some home footage of an ordinary credible man.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Amor Fati

Dave Haith and I have been engaging in a discussion on the Meetup web page but that is an awful format for any kind of serious discussion so I thought I might elucidate some thoughts here.

The debate arose from the question of whether we have free will and was fuelled by Dave's introduction of a lecture by the atheist speaker, Sam Harris.

At our last Meetup gathering, I asked the question about whether listening to sceptics and negative views can be counter-productive in terms of my own growth. I used to spend an inordinate amount of my time studying the views of people who disagree with my worldview. This was an attempt to challenge my own thinking and also to know how to defend myself in the face of their arguments. However, in the end, the constant doubting of my own thoughts became depressing and hindering. Thus I did not watch the video above. I consider Harris to be one of those who proselytise atheism, materialism and nihilism. I consider these views to be pessimistic and negative so, these days, I limit my exposure to them.

Having said that, I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts about why I find myself in disagreement with those views and what they represent to me. So this is more a personal piece than a research article like my previous entries here.


I have spoken at length with atheists in the past and it seems to me that, along with the modern proponents like Dawkins and Harris, they love to include Friedrich Nietzsche as a major influence on their thinking. Perhaps Nietzsche famously proclaiming that "God is Dead" has something to do with that?

Nietzsche was a nihilist yet he questioned nihilism. Looking for a definition of nihilism that I could use here, I happened across this one, which will do nicely:

'Nihilism’ is based on the Latin word for `nothing’: nihil.  Nihilism is used for a lot of positions in philosophy…  that there is nothing at all; that we know nothing at all; that there are no moral principles at all, and virtually any other position that could be framed with the word `nothing’.  But the most common use, and what we'll explore today, is nihilism as the view that nothing we do, nothing we create, nothing we love, has any meaning or value whatsoever.

 From what I can gather about the man, nihilism depressed Nietzsche so he attempted to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear: he practiced what is termed Active Nihilism. This 11 minute video gives a good overview of the difference between Passive and Active Nihilism.

In other words, Nietzsche tried to replace spiritual meaning, purpose and goals with earthly ones. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, the goal of finding beauty in nature, and so on. You can watch Brian Cox following the same agenda in his TV programmes. I suspect that is what Sam Harris is doing in his video above.

Now, I have to say that there are many things which Harris says, and which Nietzsche says, that I agree with. I do not dismiss everything they say because they are atheists or materialists. I'll paste a quote here from another blog which seems to get to the core of the matter. It introduces the concept of "Amor Fati" which, translated loosely, means to love one's fate.

Nietzsche looks at not only that which is life-preserving, but more importantly that which is life-enhancing. He aims to renaturalize morality and our existence, to put the animal man back into nature, per se. It is impossible to annihilate all pain and suffering—anything of worth or value comes after a difficulty or an obstacle that has been overcome, or after a dissatisfaction of the will—so then the problem becomes, is there any value or purpose to be had from all the pain and suffering? 
From this thought Nietzsche develops his concept of Amor Fati. In “Ecce Homo” he writes, “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it” (EH 10). It is impossible to eliminate all pain and suffering, therefore we must learn to accept it. But Nietzsche takes this one step further and urges us not just to accept pain and suffering, but to wholeheartedly embrace it, “to love it”. 
In fact, Nietzsche believes Amor Fati is his core life-affirming philosophy. In “The Gay Science,” the term reappears, and he writes:
Amor fati: let that be my love from now on! I do not want to wage war against ugliness. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse the accusers. Let looking away be my only negation! And, all in all and on the whole: some day I want only to be a Yes-sayer!
Again, in some ways I agree with some of that. I tend to see the bad and the ugly in a larger context. I do not want to accuse, nor even accuse the accusers. I see the need to embrace the pain and suffering and to "love" it. But I am coming from an entirely different starting point. Whareas Nietzsche starts with nihilism (nothing has any value), I start with the concept of love (everything has value, everything comes from love).

Atheism, materialism and nihilism are the dominant ideologies of the modern intellectual and scientific communities. They influence our media and our educational curricula. Nihilism was born of  philosophical pessimism and the potential adoption of that as a cultural direction is what I find depressing. It all stems from the rejection of the so-called supernatural: the greater reality that we, in our little group and many others like it, are trying to experience and embrace. If we are right, we are inevitably all part of that greater whole which has meaning and purpose and is sustained by love. If we are wrong then it doesn't matter anyway: nothing does.

So, in conclusion, I'd urge you to watch this short video which summarises what it means to be a materialist. Perhaps count the number of times you mumble "bollocks!" but do, please, watch until the end.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Secret Societies and Esoteric Traditions

Meetup at the Elstead Hotel, Bournemouth, Thursday 6th. November 2014

This week, the subject up for discussion is a pretty broad spectrum from esoteric traditions in general to secret societies such as the Freemasons in particular. In this article I'll try to provide some links to some online subject matter in the hope that it sparks some interest.

Firstly, as usual, my own take.



intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.


(from the Latin word occultus "clandestine, hidden, secret") is "knowledge of the hidden"


also called Hermetism, is a religious and philosophical tradition based primarily upon pseudepigraphical writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus ("Thrice Great"). These writings have greatly influenced the Western esoteric tradition and were considered to be of great importance during both the Renaissance and the Reformation. The tradition claims descent from a prisca theologia, a doctrine which affirms that a single, true theology exists which is present in all religions and was given by God to man in antiquity. [Wikipedia]


These days you will run across two prevailing views of secret or occult societies: the one dismissing them as silly men with silly handshakes pretending to be powerful and the other claiming a world-wide  conspiracy working to bring about a New World Order. There is probably some truth in both views but how and why do they exist.

I used to be of the former persuasion: I giggled at the thought of men in aprons and rolled-up trouser legs. Then, in the early 1990's, I read a huge bestseller called the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Primarily about the discovery of a secret - perhaps treasure - in a remote village in the Languedoc region of France, it also contained a fascinating history of secret societies including the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons. Whether or not you buy into the story of Rennes-le-Chateau (and there are many debunkers), the book is still a great read and I still recommend it after all these years.

That book created one of those publishing flurries we see from time to time when a subject catches the public imagination. I read several other books on the same theme until I picked up yet another huge bestseller which created yet another publishing flurry: Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods. So, true to form, I started reading many of those "alternative archaeology" books too. One of those books was co-written by the founder of our little Meetup group, Ian Lawton (who was not, by the way, very complimentary about Mr. Hancock and his research).

Nevertheless, what fascinated me was the way the ancient civilisation stuff merged inevitably with the history of the esoteric societies. Looking back, all roads lead to Egypt. Hermes, the greek god associated with Hermeticism, was the Greek version of the Egyptian god, Thoth.

There is far too much history, theory and conjecture to attempt to cover in a small blog article, hence the reliance on links. But if you are interested in the roots of western (perhaps all) religions, alchemy and magick, sacred geometry, biblical history and the meaning of many of the Old Testament stories and many, many other fascinating but mostly dismissed or hidden aspects of our collective history - including the founding of the United States, then I would urge you to seek out some books on the subject and judge for yourself whether it is all the work of conspiracy nuts or not.

So here are some links for your perusal:

List and descriptions of various Secret Societies.

Lecture notes by Robert Lomas (see below) on the Origins of Freemasonry.

Below is a multi-part interview with Christopher Knight, a freemason who extended his research into freemasonry to other areas, including ancient history. The Hiram Key was one of the books I read when it was first published.

Robert Lomas is co-author, with Christopher Knight (above) of the Hiram Key. He is also author of several other books and something of an authority on the masons.

Another multi-part interview with one of the authors who started it all for me, Michael Baigent who, sadly, recently passed.

Andrew Gough is someone I've followed and, occasionally, conversed with for many years. He has a wealth of experience and does a bang-up job of presenting his research online. His web site is a must visit, I would say. Here's a link to some of his work with one of his video selections as a taster.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Quantum Mechanics: Part Three


We are almost up to date but throughout this hurried history of Quantum Mechanics, I might have given the impression that the Copenhagen Interpretation is the only show in town. Not so. Although it remains the orthodox approach, there are many competing interpretations. I’ll mention a few here and provide links for further reading if your interest is stimulated. Indeed, this link …

Quantum Reality (not to be confused with Nick Herbert’s work of the same title).

… really does the job for me.

In its own way, each of the above is somewhat controversial. We have already discussed Einstein’s objection to Copenhagen and many other scientists, to this day, feel a strong affinity with Einstein’s view. Nevertheless, this is still the “textbook” interpretation.

“Many Worlds”, originally proposed by Hugh Everett in the 1950′s in an attempt to resolve the much debated measurement problem and the fate of Schrödinger’s cat. According to Everett the cat would have – not nine – but as many lives as there are probabilities arising from the measurement experiment. In other words, if a decision can have a thousand probable outcomes, then a thousand new worlds are created to realise each and every one of them. At first this theory was derided as being too fantastical to deserve consideration but by 1995 this online Many Worlds FAQ was claiming outright support from 58% of a poll of 72 leading scientists.

I could go into a long analysis of each interpretation in turn, rehashing the information available if you follow the links I have provided. But I won’t. The general point to be made here is that the interpretations fall into two camps: the realist and the anti-realist (we could add another labelled “don’t ask”). Those eminent scientists, mathematicians and philosophers who have what they would call a rational, common-sense view of reality would likely opt for the more realist interpretations such as Consistent Histories or Transactional. This group doesn’t feel comfortable with paradoxes such as nonlocality. They insist that electrons are little lumps of matter – not metaphysical wave packets that only achieve physical reality once an observer happens across it. They would probably be keen to adopt Albert Einstein as their patron.

David Bohm’s Implicate Order theory is quite an odd one to box and label. Bohm himself was a materialist and disliked the idea of dice throwing just as much as did his mentor, Einstein. Thus, Implicate Order is a realist theory complete with the hidden variable that Einstein suggested must be present to make Quantum Mechanics a complete theory.

David Bohm

Yet it is this theory that is probably most popular among New Age thinkers – the very people who would naturally select the anti-realist stance. In my view it is the holistic emphasis of the theory that appeals to the more idealist among us. Whatever the attraction may be, it is true that Bohm’s philosophy has inspired several best sellers which, according to your viewpoint, either fall into the category of popular science or New Age (or both). These include Michael Talbot’s book The Holographic Universe, Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters and Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics.

Last, but not least, is the interpretation that draws the most flak from the scientific establishment: the one which says that a conscious observer is required to collapse the wave into a “real” particle. The argument against it is simple and, to most, self-evident: if it has taken evolution billions of years to produce a self-aware, sentient being, then who was around in the universe to play the role of conscious observer while evolution was doing its thing? Well, religious people would say that the answer to that is obvious: God. Others, such as Amit Goswami, hold that the universe itself is conscious or, to be more precise, that consciousness is the prime cause; that physical reality is a product of this primary consciousness

Quantum Mechanics: Part Two

Determinism or Not?

What we now see developing is a schism among the luminaries of early 20th century physicists. They were divided into two philosophical camps: those who supported the probabilistic Copenhagen Interpretation (Bohr, Heisenberg and others not yet mentioned) and those who supported a deterministic model of reality (Einstein, Schrödinger, Born and others). It might be surprising to note that Einstein – the man who turned classical Newtonian physics on its head – should be so vehemently opposed to this interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, especially since it appeared to be an inevitable conclusion arising out of his own theories. But, in my view, Einstein passionately believed that the universe is structured in a beautiful and logical manner, however strange that logic may appear to traditional science. As such, nothing (in the physical realm, at least) was ultimately beyond human comprehension. The Copenhagen Interpretation, on the other hand, introduced messy and irrational randomness. This was just intolerable for Einstein and, it seems, for a majority of scientists, engineers and technicians to this day. Nevertheless, the Copenhagen Interpretation remains, among quantum physicists, the current orthodoxy even though it has several challengers.

The crucial difference between the two standpoints was: determinism or not? Determinism states that every event has a cause, going back to the beginning of time, i.e. the Big Bang (or whatever the current theory of the beginning happens to be). Another way of stating it (theoretically) is to say that, if we could know all of the pre-existing conditions, we could accurately predict everything that will happen in the future. This, of course, has far reaching implications, not the least for the concept of human free will and accountability. For example, if someone goes out one morning and shoots his neighbour, can he be held ultimately responsible for his action if it was inevitable from the moment the universe came into being? On the other hand, quantum mechanics introduces probability at the most fundamental level. Another big philosophical question now begs: does quantum level probability allow for choice? If, by deciding to observe an electron, I collapse the probability wave and determine its position or momentum, does that signify that the universe does indeed allow for my free will?

Lest anyone be in any doubt about the quantum description of the electron vis-à-vis its position and/or momentum, we are not talking about a limitation of the measuring equipment to determine either or both, we are talking about the electron having no position nor momentum until we make the measurement of one or the other. This is crucial to the debate above.

Einstein was not about to lie down and quietly concede the point to Bohr and his Copenhagen confederates. In 1935 he, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen invented a thought (gedanken) experiment designed to expose the incompleteness of QM. This became known as the EPR paradox. The measurement problem as described above is one of the bizarre outcomes of QM but it leads into another, even more bizarre, consequence and this is what Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen latched on to in describing the paradox.

The EPR Paradox

Two particles can exist in a state referred to as “entangled” – that is, they behave as one physical system. The EPR argument centred around entanglement together with a particular measurement. In addition to position and momentum, another property of a particle is that known as its “spin”. Using convenient terms, we could say that the spin is either “up” or “down”. So, with the entangled pair, if we measure the spin of one particle to be “up”, we can say with absolute certainty that the spin of the other will be “down”. The paradox is this: if we allow the pair to fly apart – even light years apart – the measurement of the spin of one particle should instantly yield certain knowledge of the spin of the other. As neither particle (according to QM) had a definite spin direction until the first measurement was taken, how would the remote particle receive the information determining which spin direction it should display. Einstein’s Special Relativity specifically rules out faster-than-light travel so how could information travel across light years in an instant? Einstein called this “spooky action at a distance” and thought it demonstrated that QM violated causality (a.k.a. determinism), thus rendering it inconsistent. In physics this spooky action at a distance is called “nonlocality”. Einstein maintained that something must be missing from QM – probably some form of hidden variable – that would account for the spookiness.

John Stewart Bell

For many years following the EPR paper, nobody tested the argument experimentally. In 1964, John Stewart Bell – a young physicist from Northern Ireland – produced a theorem that rejects all models of reality based on locality. The proof (Bell’s theorem) states that in order to assume locality, any model (including the hidden variable variety) must satisfy a mathematical inequality, known today as Bell’s Inequality. In 1982 actual experiments carried out by Alain Aspect and his team (and others since) appear to prove that Bell’s inequality is violated and left little doubt that nonlocality is a fact of nature – at least at the sub-microscopic level. Just so that we are sure about what nonlocality means, let’s use a big world analogy: two men are given flags and told that if one raises his flag, the other must drop his. They are sent a short distance apart and we ask first man to raise his flag; immediately the second man drops his. Ok, we say, the second man must have reacted when he saw the first flag go up. So we send the first man to New York and the other to Tokyo. We film and accurately time the proceedings and ask the first man to raise his flag. Immediately the second man drops his. How? Maybe the second man had a radio and received a signal? But no, we can even rule that out because his flag dropped before the time it would take for a radio signal – travelling at the speed of light, of course – could reach him. It is as if the space between the two men did not exist and the second man knows instantly what the first is doing. This is a very simplistic analogy, of course, and it must be pointed out that there is little present evidence of “big world” nonlocality although, recently, experiments by Anton Zeilinger and his group have confirmed that essential "spookiness" and confounded those hoping for a return to "rational" physics.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Quantum Mechanics

The Dreams Stuff is Made Of

Someone recently said of quantum mechanics that we don't get it because the way we think about it is all wrong. That we should think of reality as a dream. I probably agree.

I mentioned, at our last meeting, that I would post an article I wrote some time ago. It is rather long so I'll split it over a few posts. Needless to say that I am no physicist - my 1968 O Level didn't even mention QM. But, like so many others, I find the subject fascinating because it is the one area of science that hints at a greater reality that is beyond the lab, beyond the arrogant certainty of materialists and it may hold the key to a whole new world.

This could well be my last contribution to the group, so I hope you enjoy it.

Part One: From the Strange to the Bizarre

The rock solid foundations of classical physics were shaken by Einstein and relativity and the door was now open for even more weirdness. The early 20th century saw the development of a new branch of theoretical physics which, at times, more closely resembled philosophy than traditional science. Here the work was done not so much in the empirical world of the lab but increasingly in the abstract, using mathematical models and in “thought experiments”. One of the originators of this new science was Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist now regarded as the father of Quantum Mechanics.

Neils Bohr

But let’s go back a little. In the late 1890′s, Max Planck had applied his imagination to explain another of these stubborn late 19th century scientific anomalies: so called “black body radiation”. Put simply, this is to do with why materials glow brighter the hotter they get. Planck didn’t much like what he found: that the energy emitted by these black bodies behaved, not as waves, but as discrete packets called “quanta”. In 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper on the quantum nature of light (the photoelectric effect): a paper which was to win him the Nobel Prize in 1921. Einstein proposed that light can be thought of as a constant stream of particles (think of night-time tracer bullets in a war movie). Each of these particles, or photons, contained an amount of energy proportional to the frequency of the radiation. Thus, photons of red light would contain less energy than those of blue light because blue has a higher frequency than red.

Now, all this led to a degree of discomfort among the physicists of the time including Planck and Einstein themselves. Almost a hundred years earlier, an Englishman named Thomas Young invented his famous two-slit experiment to demonstrate the wave-like properties of light (see the video below). On the other hand, Planck and Einstein had now shown a distinct particle-like behaviour. It appeared that both positions were correct though they should have been mutually exclusive.

Back to Niels Bohr.

Perhaps the most significant contribution of Bohr’s long and productive career was his principle of complementarity. The two-slit experiment mentioned above shows the wave nature of light because, if light is projected through two slits on to a screen behind, wave interference patterns can be seen on the screen. Think of two pebbles dropped into a pond: the ripples of one will interfere with the ripples of the other. This can only happen with waves. However, what if we had a projector that could send discrete particles of light (photons) through the slits? Individual particles, one at a time, cannot possibly interfere with each other because only one particle is going through either of the slits at any moment. Thus, common sense would insist, particles cannot produce interference patterns. The problem for the common sense view is that they do! How? To this day nobody really knows although there are several competing interpretations. Nevertheless, this is not just theoretical musing on the part of quantum physicists: the particle gun two-slit experiment has been performed.

If it has not become clear yet, we are now into an area of physics where the nature of reality itself is in question. How can something like light be two things at once, each valid, each dependent upon how we observe it. If we design an instrument to observe the wave properties of light, then light is a wave. If we design experiments to show the particle nature of light, then light is made up of particles. Common sense says it can’t be both. Niels Bohr says “Oh yes it can!”. Bohr tells us that we cannot think in classical “either-or” terms when considering quantum effects. In the two-slit experiment, the nature of light is indeterminate until we make a measurement: the act of measurement determines its “reality”. This is complementarity and it is the basis of the so-called “Copenhagen Interpretation” of Quantum Mechanics (Bohr was a professor at Copenhagen). [This link to Robert M. Pirsig's essay is well worth a close look.]

Werner Heisenberg

The debate over wave-particle duality rages on to this day. Another aspect of Quantum Mechanics that has produced even more controversy is the "Uncertainty Principle". This was the work of German physicist, Werner Heisenberg and it became the other main ingredient of the Copenhagen Interpretation. Like complementarity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty maintained the position that – at least at the sub-atomic level – reality is nebulous.

Particles such as electrons have properties such as position and momentum but the Uncertainty Principle states that if we attempt to measure one of these values, it is then impossible to know the precise value of the other. In the big world of planes, trains and automobiles, this would be like a driver saying: “my speedometer tells me that I’m doing 40 mph but, because I’ve determined that, I can’t say where I am”. Of course, the quantum effects are not really noticeable in the big world. So, again, uncertainty says that the more accurately you measure the position of a particle, the less sure you are of its momentum (and vice-versa).

The logical conclusion of all this is that, if we cannot say anything precise about the physical nature of a particle until we interact with it (observe or measure it), then it does not have a precise reality until that interaction takes place. Some interpret this by saying that I (the observer) am required to bring into physical reality those things which I observe. Others maintain that an observer is not required, only some form of interaction. But as far as I can tell, few really dispute the uncertainty principle.

Erwin Schrödinger

Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian physicist and contemporary of Heisenberg, devised a now famous “thought experiment” to illustrate quantum uncertainty. This has become known, simply, as “Schrödinger’s Cat”. To paraphrase this oft-repeated story: a cat is shut in a box with a sealed bottle of poison gas and a triggering device. This device is actuated (or not) by a random quantum event (a radioactive particle decay) with a 50% probability of happening within a certain time. If the event does take place, the device triggers a hammer which breaks the glass and releases the poison. When the time is up, an observer opens the box and the cat is either alive or dead but the question is: in what state was the cat before the observation? Uncertainty would have it that it was both alive and dead!

Schrödinger’s important legacy to Quantum Mechanics is, however, his wave equation. Another physicist, Louis de Broglie, theorised that if electromagnetic energy can behave as particles then perhaps particles such as electrons also behave as waves. Schrödinger agreed and formalised the wave theory of matter in his equations. So now, instead of imagining electrons as little balls of matter in orbit around a much bigger ball called the nucleus, we have a “standing” wave surrounding the nucleus. In this picture, the electron is not a particle at a specific orbital position unless and until we measure it and “collapse the wave”. Later, Max Born – another German physicist and good friend of Albert Einstein – discovered a statistical property of the wave equation: if it was multiplied by itself (squared), it would predict the probability of finding the position of a particle. He concluded that the wave function was a mere mathematical abstraction and that the particles were – always – physically discrete, classical points of matter. Einstein agreed. He was one of the opponents of the nebulous view of the Copenhagen Interpretation, arguing famously that “God doesn’t play dice”.

Monday, 22 September 2014

It's Only a Coincidence

Some years ago, the late, lamented Robert Anton Wilson summed up the position of sceptical materialists by pointing out they they have a singe mantra: it's only a coincidence, it's only a coincidence, it's only a coincidence.

Fast forward this YouTube clip to 12.00 minutes and hear it in his own words ...

Synchronicity has been defined as "meaningful coincidence" which is the opposite of what the sceptics mean by coincidence. They maintain that there is no such thing as meaningful coincidence - just random, accidental, happenstance. The self-styled "Skeptics Dictionary" website has this to say about synchronicity:

What reasons are there for accepting synchronicity as an explanation for anything in the real world? What it explains is more simply and elegantly explained by the ability of the human mind to find meaning and significance where there is none (apophenia).  Jung's defense of acausal connections is so inane I hesitate to repeat it.
You can follow the link above if you can bear to read the whole entry. The website is compiled by Robert Todd Carroll, a retired philosophy teacher with no scientific qualifications whatsoever. Yet he believes he is qualified to call Jung "inane". It so happens that Jung had a collaborator on his work on synchronicity: a brilliant and famous quantum physicist called Wolfgang Pauli. Pauli was convinced of synchronicity yet are we to believe that Carroll, at a glance and with no scientific background, has seen the truth that evaded such stellar intellects as Pauli and Jung? You decide.

So, to delve a little into the work of Jung and Pauli, I'll include a couple of incidents which illustrate the concept and will perhaps serve as a starting point for our discussion.

Jung's Beetle

This is from the website:

 One night, the patient dreamt a golden scarab - cetonia aurataThe next day, during the psychotherapy session, a real insect this time, hit against the Jung's cabinet window. Jung caught it and discovered surprisingly that it was a golden scarab; a very rare presence for that climate.

So, the idea is all about coincidence: in this case, between the scarab dreamt by the patient and its appearance in reality, in the psychotherapy cabinet.
But this coincidence is not senseless, a simple coincidence. By using the amplification method, Jung associates in connection with the scarab and comes to the concept of death and rebirth from the esoteric philosophy of antiquity, a process that, in a symbolic way, the patient should experience for a renewal and vitalization of her unilateral personality, the cause of the neurosis she was suffering from. 
Thus, a significant coincidence of physical and psychological phenomena that are acausal connected.

Pauli and the number 137

Wolfgang Pauli, as I mentioned above, was a big name in quantum mechanics and is famous for the Pauli Exclusion Principle for which he received the Nobel Prize (he was nominated by Einstein). He had personal problems with relationships and was advised to seek help from the psychologist, Carl Jung. The "treatment" phase of their relationship lasted only a couple of years but they collaborated on several projects for many years thereafter, attempting to find common ground between physics and psychology.

Pauli was interested in numbers, especially numbers of significance in physics. One such is the number 137 which, in physics, is the value of the "fine structure constant". Not only did this number have great significance in his work but, as Pauli discovered from Jung, 137 has great mystical significance and, in Hebrew Gematria, is the value of the word: קבלה (Kabbalah). 

Pauli died in hospital in 1958. For a man obsessed with synchronicity, his hospital room number would have been just such a meaningful coincidence: it was room 137.

Other links:

Daily Mail Article: 

The answer to life, the universe and everything...


Friday, 12 September 2014

Esoteric Traditions

This is a copy & paste of an article I wrote some years ago when I still maintained my own web site. Following our discussion of Wicca and other "mystery" religions, I thought it might be of interest to share the article with you all.

Feel free to comment.

A Personal Perspective

Whenever I listen to a priest, either at some religious ceremony (of which I attend mercifully few) or on television, I look at the person and wonder how he or she can keep trotting out such utter rubbish. I look carefully at the face for signs of a wry smile that gives away the intelligent mind inside; a smile that says “I don’t really believe most of this crap but it’s what I’m paid to say”. Now anyone who has read through Part One of this website and noted my dislike of hard-line scepticism might think that there is more than a trace of hypocritical irony in those seemingly harsh comments. Hopefully I can now show that there is some consistency in my reasoning. The common factor, the target of my ire in both cases can be summed up in one word: dogma. The academic/scientific orthodoxy and the three major religions in the west all exclude any possibility that their view might be wrong. An example from science is this quote from Lewis Wolpert, a biologist:
“An open mind is a very bad thing – everything falls out.”  Wolpert
The difference, as I see it, between scientific and religious dogmatists is that religious people believe that they have been given the word of God first-hand and therefore any attempt to present evidence contrary to their beliefs can be ignored as mere human fallibility. Scientists, on the other hand, insist that they will only believe the evidence. Of course, they themselves reserve the right to set the parameters for acceptance of evidence. The further away from the materialist core assumptions, the tougher it becomes for evidence to be accepted – a fact acknowledged and justified by the late, popular scientist, Carl Sagan:
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Sagan
So, if you believe that you have communicated by telepathy, or have lived before, you will be branded at best as deluded and at worst as a liar, a cheat or a lunatic regardless of the certainty of your experience. I would recommend the book, Best Evidence by Michael Schmicker for a well written treatment of this subject.
If, on the other hand, you were to take those same claims to your religious leaders, you might – these days – be told that you have been possessed by demons or accused of treating with Satan. These and other subjects generally related to the paranormal are often deemed by the church to be aspects of the occult: the work of the devil. In days gone by you would probably have been tied to a stake and burned alive for admitting to such abominations.
My problem is not so much with religion but with religious organisations: churches, orthodoxy and – especially – fundamentalists. I have no problem with personal faith and the spiritual needs of the lay community. I have no problem with those who seek, only with those who preach: the rule makers, the organisers, the spin doctors, those who would control and direct us like sheep into the pens of restricted thinking. Those who would tell the faithful that, not only is it a blessed act to die for their particular brand of dogma, but that it is also heroic to kill for the same. And, philosophically speaking, my problem with organised religion is with their concept of God. The anthropomorphic portrayal of God as a paternalistic ruler of heaven and earth; a God with human characteristics such as pride, vengeance, jealousy and anger. A God very much like the Michelangelo depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I will describe my concept of God – a word I’m actually reluctant to use because of the above connotations – later, in my personal section.
So in this section I would like to delve deeper into the roots of western religious traditions. I have tried to understand why I was brought up to believe – without question – in certain myths that, even as a boy of twelve (I was always a slow starter), I could see were patent nonsense. When the boy that I was came to challenge my religious teachers about some of the glaring contradictions presented as the holy truth, the answers were so unsatisfactory that I quickly lost all faith and – for a time at least – switched to the other side: atheism. I was then willing to embrace the cold, hard doctrine of the cosmic accident until, of course, those answers too became deeply unsatisfactory. Where that led me to will be the subject of Part Three of this website where I will attempt to explain my personal philosophy.
The comments here are directed towards the so-called western religions: all the different factions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I know far too little about eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism to be able to comment although I suspect I might find a certain affinity with the Buddhist philosophy if I were to look a little closer. This is not to say that I’m any kind of expert on the subject of any religion: western or otherwise. However I was brought up as a church-going Christian and have had enough exposure to western religious customs to form opinions. And that is all I am expressing here: personal opinions.

One for All

Despite outward appearances of violently opposing basic philosophies, all three major western religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have common roots. When I say “western” that is because the general spread of these three has been mainly to the west, north and south of the original, middle-eastern source although Islam, of course, has spread eastwards to cover most of south-central Asia and Indonesia. The generic term “eastern religion” points to the geographical locations of India and the orient and would include the likes of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Taoism and Shinto.
So, the common roots of the three so-called western religions go all the way back (at least) to the Old Testament patriarch, Abraham (known as Ibrahim in Islam), said to be the first to teach monotheism: the worship of a single God. Indeed, these three are sometimes referred to as the “Abrahamic religions“. The story of Abraham and his children also marks the dividing of the ways for the faiths of Islam and Judaism. According to the old testament book of Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham which – in return for observance of certain rules and rituals including circumcision – God promised:
“You shall be the father of a multitude of nations … and kings shall come
forth from you … an everlasting covenant throughout the ages … I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting holding.” Genesis: 17
“Your offspring” is the bit that is the problem here. Which offspring? Which line of descendants? You see, Abraham – according to the texts – produced children from more than one woman. His “number one wife”, as it were, would have been Sarai (later called Sarah) but she couldn’t have children so she arranged a surrogate in the person of her handmaid, Hagar (Hajar). Hagar duly gave birth to Abraham’s firstborn son called Ishmael who, according to the Muslims, is the rightful heir to the promised land. Later, by way of a miracle from God, Sarah (by this time in her nineties!) was to deliver Abraham (at the sprightly age of 100) a son of her own. This son bore the name of Isaac and, say the Jews, he and his line are the rightful heirs to the promised land (Ishmael, they say, doesn’t count because he was illegitimate).
Each son, Ishmael and Isaac, would produce descendants who would form twelve tribes: Ishmael’s twelve tribesof wandering Arabs and Isaac – through his son Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) - the twelve tribes of Israel. Obviously, I can’t do justice to the whole story here but we can already see the deep roots of the conflict between Jew and Muslim (even though Islam, as an “official” religion of the Arabs, did not appear for over 2,000 years after the Abraham story). Indeed, it has been very difficult for me to find and provide links to unbiased web sites on this subject. Still, the most important aspect of the Abraham story is that he was the founder of the first monotheistic religion – the worship of a single God. This God became known to the Jews as YHWH, Yahweh, Yehovah or Jehovah and to the Arabs as Allah.
But wait … let’s look a little more carefully at the biblical claim for Abraham being the first monotheist. First, there is some doubt as to whether Abraham actually existed as there seems to be little archaeo-historical evidence that he did. Nevertheless, assuming that the bible is describing a real person, Abraham would have been the leader of a nomadic tribe, moving his goats and cattle from place to place. His father was a dealer in religious idols that needed to be carried about with the tribe wherever they went. Many gods means many idols. This was a cumbersome, if not risky, chore. Much simpler to have a single God requiring no idol. Perhaps Abraham was a pragmatist rather than a prophet? Perhaps his story has been enhanced with a little spin by the scribes of the Old Testament? As Robert Feather points out in his book “The Mystery of the Copper Scroll of Qumran”:
“To understand why later scribes found such inspiration from Abraham’s story, it seems reasonable to conclude that there was some truth in the main elements, as handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, and described in the Old Testament.
“However, Abraham does not come across as a ‘messianic’ leader who publically preached a new creed. It even seems unlikely that monotheism was Abraham’s original idea.”
Feather goes on:
“In the Old testament, Abraham does not exhibit the characteristics of someone who preaches to a wide, or even select audience. You cannot found a religion unless you go out and preach the new gospel.”
The title of the chapter containing those quotes puts it in a nutshell: “Abraham – Father of Three Religions, Founder of None”.
The book of Genesis (Chapter 12) tells us that Abraham journeyed with his tribe from the region of Ur which, according to modern research, could be one of several historical places in the region of Mesopotamia in modern-day Iraq. He went to the land then called Canaan where he was to receive the promise – mentioned above – that this land would become the great nation to be given to his descendants. This promise was to be repeated later when Abraham returned to Canaan after famine had forced him to spend a while in Egypt. Here, importantly, we have the first mention of possible Egyptian influence on biblical events and the development of a religious philosophy. Today there is much speculation about the extent of that influence and the attempts of later Old Testament scribes to expunge it from the records. Correspondences abound between the texts of ancient Egyptians and the Old Testament stories, so much so that the boundaries between the two begin to blur considerably.
If we now skip several generations and take a look at Genesis: 37 and the story of Joseph (he of the colourful coat), we find him in Egypt too – as a result of being banished there by his jealous brothers (well, what did he expect when he told them about his dream that they would all – one day – bow down to him?). According to the scriptures, Joseph – after a spell in prison because of some tabloid scandal involving his master’s wife – gradually worked his way into the favour of his Egyptian rulers (using his talents as a dream interpreter) until, eventually, he became the second most powerful man in the land.
Now, a little historical discussion here might help put these bible stories into perspective. Some historians have suggested that (if we are to accept that such an individual actually existed) Joseph might have come to Egypt during the time of the Hyksos rulers (sometime between 1700 and 1500 BCE). The Hyksos were not native Egyptians but Asiatic (Semitic) tribes who had first settled in Lower Egypt and then advanced their influence to become rulers for a period of more than 100 years. If Joseph arrived during this time – being, of course, of Semitic stock himself – this might explain how he became accepted and promoted through the ranks to a position of great power.
Another – perhaps more controversial – theory is that Joseph was actually a character from a later period (18th Dynasty, around 1400 BCE): a high ranking minister named Yuya. Ahmed Osman, an Egyptian historian and author has promoted this hypothesis in several books on the subject. Yuya had a daughter, Tiye, who became the wife of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Now, here’s where it gets interesting if you follow Osman’s line of reasoning: Amenhotep III and Tiye were the parents of the future Pharaoh, Amenhotep IV otherwise known as Akhenaten. So, according to Osman, if Yuya (and therefore Tiye) were of Semitic (Hebrew) descent they probably (if privately) followed the monotheistic faith of Abraham. Tiye was said to be very influential with her son, Akhenaten, who is today famous for introducing the monotheistic Atenist religion during his reign.
Others – including the majority of orthodox Egyptologists – disagree (to put it mildly) with Osman’s speculations. Still, the question is still relevant: did the early Hebrews influence the Egyptians towards monotheism, or was it the other way around?
The question gains more significance when we move on to the next A-List celebrity in the biblical cast: Moses. It seems that even the experts disagree on who he was and when he lived. The main problem is that there appears to be little or no evidence – from Egyptian records at least – for the existence of Moses or indeed for the hugely significant (in biblical terms) event of the Exodus – when Moses is said to have led thousands of Hebrew slaves out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea and set off on a 40 year hike through the desert. Here are links describing a few of the many speculations:
Jan Assmann: Moses was an Egyptian.
Ahmed Osman: Moses was Akhenaten.
David Rohl believes that Moses did exist and that the Exodus did happen. The reason, he says, that archaeologists have found so little evidence is that they were looking at the wrong time period. He places these people and events a couple of hundred years earlier than the conventional dating.
Sigmund Freud was a keen student of this period of history. In his book “Moses and Monotheism” he too places Moses in the reign of Akhenaten but stops short of Osman’s claim that they were one and the same person.
If some, like Osman, believe the “Moses = Akhenaten” theory then others, such as Velikovsky, add to the speculation with “Akhenaten = Oedipus” (a figure out of Greek mythology).
Graham Phillips proposes that the biblical character of Moses is a composite of two historical Egyptians, both named Tuthmosis, who lived at different times. The first converted the Israelites to monotheism, the second led them out of exile about a century later.
Some scholars argue that the whole story was invented by Jewish scribes during the period of the exile in Babylon.
Whatever the truth of the matter of Moses might be, once again the important factor for me is the influence of Egyptian religion and philosophy upon the formative stages of Judaism. “Moses the Law Giver”, according to the bible, received the 10 commandments directly from God. Odd then, isn’t it, that they bear a remarkable similarity to Chapter 125 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead (see the Papyrus of Ani, Chapter 125: The Negative Confession)?

But we are not restricted to the Ancient Egyptians when it comes to “external” influences on the nascent Hebrew religion. What about the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and Persians? The more I look, the more apparent it appears to me that the many merge into the one the farther back in time you go. While, on the surface, it seems that the various religions of the region coalesced over time into the major three we know today, at a deeper level the opposite direction seems to be true: the various religions (including the big three of our times) appear to trace their ancestry back to a very ancient philosophy indeed. How ancient is not clear right now. Some have argued that it goes back way beyond the Old Kingdom of Egypt (about 5,000 years ago) – perhaps to the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. Others contend that extraterrestrials – the ancient astronauts – had a hand in our ancient development.

Subterranean Streams

The institution of the Mysteries is the most interesting phenomenon in the study of religion. The idea of antiquity was that there was something to be known in religion, secrets or mysteries into which it was possible to be initiated; that there was a gradual process of unfolding in things religious; in fine, that there was a science of the soul, a knowledge of things unseen.
G.R.S. Mead (from “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten”)
Orthodox science, like orthodox religion, faces challenges from alternative theories usually arising out of the ranks of dedicated amateurs. Some of these challengers are cranks, while others are highly qualified in their own fields and have applied their knowledge and experience to their amateur passion. It requires an open mind and a lot of cross-referencing to separate the cranky ideas from the meritorious. The trouble is that, all too often, the orthodoxy tends to dismiss all alternative theories as crackpot ideas. It is an understandable human reaction: why should someone who has spent his/her life working hard, studying, researching; someone who has followed the correct academic and professional path, face a challenge from unqualified upstarts with few or no credentials in the field? And the truth of the matter is that the majority of the would-be challenges probably do turn out to be poorly researched speculation that can be dismissed with a few well chosen references (usually accompanied by some equally well chosen and barbed put-down). Nevertheless it seems to me – the casual observer – that the orthodoxy has been somewhat guilty of smug self-satisfaction in ignoring or dismissing some of these new theories. New tributaries are forming which are now merging into an alternative stream. Whether that stream ever becomes the mainstream remains to be seen. If it does, then the universities will have new or amended courses and doctorates and the alternative will become the orthodox. It was ever thus.
So what are these theories and how do they impact on the archaeological/historical orthodoxy and traditional religions? Well, the theories are alternative because they disagree with the conventional explanations for so many ancient mysteries, for example: the Ancient Egyptians and the Pyramids, biblical events such as the great flood, the stone circles of Europe, the Grail myths, the meaning and influence of ancient texts and the origins of mystery schools and secret societies. The impact? From the scientific/academic side: scathing dismissals and furious debunking (visit the Hall of Maat website for a taste of this). From the religious: support when the theory appears to support their religious texts, rejection when it doesn’t. The debunk-fest from the sceptics is all very reminiscent – in tone and ferocity – of the treatment reserved for parapsychologists or Darwin-doubters by the good folks over at CSICOP/CSI. No surprise then that two of the most vociferous critics of what they term “pseudo-archaeology”, Ed Krupp and Ken Feder, are listed as Fellows of CSICOP (now called CSI).
But what I am interested in when sifting through all this speculation is to discover whether that stream of new theories reflects and confirms an actual underground stream of arcane knowledge: a common concept of spirituality – indeed, a common concept of reality itself. It has been called the “Perennial Wisdom” or the “Perennial Philosophy” and it can be found underlying many – if not all – major religions, both Western and Eastern. It is at the very core of Egyptian Hermeticism, the Jewish Kabbalah, Islamic Sufism and Esoteric Christianity including  Gnosticism. Ever since my interest in these matters was piqued many years ago, I have suspected that – whatever the faith – there is one religion for the masses and another for the adepts. Throughout the ages, religion has been a tool used by the powerful to control the masses. Some would have it that this is all that religion has ever been but I wouldn’t go that far. Any tool can be used for good or bad, to build or destroy, and religion has been no different. Some great works have been done in the name of God while at the same time awful atrocities have been committed in the very same cause. This is the dual aspect of orthodox religion: a faith which espouses virtuousness and altruistic values contrasted with the cynical machinations of a priestly hierarchy, bent on mass domination. Evidence of the former can be seen in a million-and-one everyday saintly deeds performed by clergy and congregation alike. Evidence of the latter is, sadly, all too abundant in our history books and on our TV screens to this very day. What is the definition of oxymoron? Answer: the term “holy war”.
Underlying the surface infrastructure of the mass religion, however, there appears to be this quiet but potent subculture. Just how potent remains to be seen. Some would have it that – in the form of one or several secret societies – the members of this subculture are the real rulers of the world. Others believe they are the leaders in waiting – hatching plots and grand designs to bring about the New World Order. Others yet would have it that these are the enlightened few: those whose time has not yet come but who work in preparation for a general or mass shift towards that enlightenment which is our collective birthright. I suspect that there are varying degrees of truth in each of those positions. I think that there is an ancient knowledge, kept alive throughout the millennia by various (though not necessarily coherent) groups of adherents, often at the risk of discovery and a certain death penalty. This knowledge, like the superficial mass religion if often underlies, can be used for means either virtuous or nefarious.
I’d like now, if I can, to trace the source of this subterranean stream of knowledge through the ages and events – historical, religious and scientific – to the present day. This is inevitably, of course, mostly speculation on my part and, indeed, on the part of other more qualified authors whom I have read before coming to my own conclusions. But I do think there is strong evidence out there and that it does form a pattern or a fabric when woven together.

The Esoteric Tradition

“The Sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.”
Genesis 6:2
“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare [children] to them, the same [became] mighty men which [were] of old, men of renown.”
Genesis 6:4 (King James Version)
The “Sons of God” – or “sons of the gods” as interpreted elsewhere – were also referred to as the Nephilim: sons of the Grigori. The Grigori, in turn, are also known as the “Watchers“, believed to be angels. Thus, the Nephilim – as a consequence of their lust for human women – were known as “fallen angels“. Now I am a firm believer that mythical stories almost always have some basis in truth though that truth is often cloaked in layer upon layer of symbolism and allegory. So to try to uncover the truth behind this particularly fascinating myth, many commentators have speculated about the nature of these “angels”. The Watchers are often depicted as having wings or are said to have descended from heaven and there has been a natural inclination among some to suggest that they were an alien race. Others maintain that they were the remnants of an advanced antediluvian civilisation who “seeded” our own. Both are interesting positions though I tend to favour the idea that we are not the first human civilisation to have come to prominence on this earth, nor will we be the last. Thus, in some way, we must have inherited something – even if it is only in the form of myths and legends – from our predecessors.
So let’s speculate a little further: what if the stories of the Watchers (or Grigori or Nephilim or Annunaki – whichever you prefer) do represent that kernel of truth present is all myths? Let’s say that these beings were highly advanced in some ways: perhaps in astronomy, perhaps also in engineering and construction. Perhaps they had discovered a technology that we, for all our advanced physics, have yet to find. Maybe they used – for example – some properties of sound to move and manoeuvre big, heavy objects. Possibly, and most importantly, they were highly advanced spiritually. What if these ancestors were a shy, retiring race? Maybe they saw the coming of their own demise and tried to pass on some of their accrued wisdom for the benefit of the new kids on the block – you and me. But, in doing so, in trying to select worthy candidates to carry forth this important message, they – wittingly or otherwise – created a priestly elite amongst the tribal society of the time.
A parable is what is used to convey a message to the masses when it is known that the masses would not be able to comprehend the pure, unadulterated text. The bible is full of them. So are all the other religious scriptures. Today, TV producers and scriptwriters use the very same device for getting across their point, whether that be philosophical, moral or merely commercial. The masses are not now, nor ever have been, particularly sophisticated. In the past, without the benefit of education, reading or exposure to intellectual debate, the sophistication gap between the learned elite and the humble farmer must have been a yawning chasm. Gods and angels they understood; cosmology and advanced physics might have been a tad beyond their ken. So it seems to me entirely plausible that there could have been an ancient and dying civilisation, overlapping the genesis of our own, and that any interaction between the two has come down to us in two forms: one being the common myths and legends (arising out of the parables used in the early times), the other being an arcane metaphysical codex, guarded and kept alive by trained initiates. Some (most?) of these initiates might not have understood the true nature of the work they dedicated their lives to preserving, but preserve it they must because the time will come when the masses are ready to understand and accept.
Romantic nonsense? Maybe, but it might just go some way to explaining some of the anomalies besetting the study of ancient history in Egypt and other, equally mysterious, parts of the world. These are now well known due to a number of alternative history bestsellers, TV documentaries, novels and films. Generally speaking the sequence goes thus: a book with alternative theories on aspects of ancient history catches the public imagination (think: Fingerprints of the Gods or The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and, more recently, the novel The Da Vinci Code ) and the copies fly off the shelves. Nothing will miff an academic more than an outsider cashing in on his or her field of study so the debunkers marshal their forces, sharpen their pens and acerbic wit and sally forth to do battle with the usurpers. The strategy is deceptively simple: pick out the weakest point of the new theory and systematically demolish it, then assert that every other claim made in the book hangs upon this now discredited hook so the whole thing is a shambles. Both of the non-fiction examples mentioned above (the third title being a fictional rehash of much of the speculation contained in the Holy Blood, Holy Grail) do have obvious weaknesses: a point that has been readily admitted by the authors. However they do raise some important questions and it is the clamour for answers that the debunkers have so effectively and cynically stifled. “Nothing to answer” would be the stock response; “We were right all along”; “You want answers? Ask a real expert”. The trouble is that they seem to be bogged down in the minutiae – shards of pottery or carbon dating a piece of wood found in a tomb. So who’s asking the big questions? Questions such as WHY?
Why – in the case of the pyramids – build such huge structures to house the earthly remains of a king? Vanity? I don’t see that. Egyptian pharaohs believed in the afterlife – the tomb was a way-station or a departure hall for the trip to the stars. Perhaps many of the lesser pyramids (and there are many) were tombs and perhaps that’s why most experts assume that all pyramids are tombs. But there does seem to be a different quality about the Giza pyramids – especially the Great Pyramid. As Dr. Robert Schoch says:
“In many ways, tracing the history and meaning of the Great Pyramid is key to understanding our origins as civilized beings. The Great Pyramid is not just a stagnant pile of ancient rock, but a structure that embodies the human spirit and it has lessons to teach us today”. Schoch: Exploring the Great Pyramid.
Whether or not any lost civilisation had a hand in the design or building of some of the ancient wonders of the world, it might be that they did leave behind something equally (or more) important. By this I mean the wisdom which, by way of myth and legend, became the source material for the great western religions we know today. The message will surely have been grossly distorted along the way but, in the mystery schools operating just beneath the surface of those religions, we might yet rediscover that kernel of truth that the readers (myself included) of the above mentioned popular books so desperately seek.

So to recap: we have established – in the story of Abraham – a common biblical source for the three dominant western religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Historically there are ancient traces back to the Egyptians and perhaps beyond. Perhaps to a common source which would include the Hindus and Buddhists. We can even speculate about a yet to be discovered pre-existing civilisation which somehow passed on its wisdom to our own fledgling civilisation in the form of creation myths.
In highly symbolic code and language, this ancient wisdom has occasionally surfaced into the mainstream but has generally been hidden (hence the term: occult) from both the masses and the orthodox hierarchy. It is the stuff of the Mystery Schools of Egypt, Greece and Rome; the guarded secret of the Jews from Solomon to the Essenes and beyond. It harks back to times long before the materialism so prevalent today; times when the intellectual elite would consider that there could be no higher human enterprise than to study and attain enlightenment. Not the scientific enlightenment that began in 17th century Europe but another kind of knowledge altogether: one that could not be found by the empirical practice of looking outwards towards the world of physical things. This was knowledge that was more than knowledge, it was knowing, or “Gnosis”. It was attained by looking inward, thus it was “Esoteric”. The etymology of these two words makes it clear (according to Merriam-Webster Online):
Greek gnosis, literally, knowledge, from gignoskein
Late Latin esotericus, from Greek esoterikos, from esotero, comparative of eiso, eso within, from eis into; akin to Greek en in
This inward-looking meditation, aided by techniques (or drugs) intended to foster altered states of consciousness, could produce a clarity of insight not normally available to the day-to-day, exoteric world-view. The result, for the initiate, was to see that God, the universe, everything and everyone including himself are an undivided whole. Thus, the goal of esoteric schools, cults or fraternities was to lead the initiate to reunification with the One. To escape from the base physicality of earthly existence and to experience spiritual oneness while still living a life on this earthly plane.
So we can already see from this that the esoteric movement was both idealist and dualist. In other words, they believed in the mind-before-matter paradigm of idealist philosophy but also believed that the material world had somehow been separated (or fallen) from the spiritual dimension. Which, of course, takes us back to the Genesis account of the Creation and “The Fall”. When these biblical accounts are viewed through the eyes of the Gnostic, we see that they are clearly not to be taken literally at all. Again, we see the multi-level story-telling technique of the old scribes: one simple tale for the masses concealing another for the adepts (and perhaps yet another for the advanced masters?). The symbolism is rife and must have kept Dr. Jung busy for many a dark, winter’s evening.
Gnosis does not necessarily define what a Gnostic is, however. Gnosis is an enlightened state of mind. Gnostics have built a particular philosophy around the idea of Gnosis. For the most part, we think of the Gnostics as a break-away Christian sect but gnostic ideas have surfaced in other religions and philosophies – most notably in the pre-Christian philosophy of Plato and his followers. Within the Christian faith the Gnostic thinkers were – to say the least – unwelcome at first and were later branded as heretics. I have mentioned, for example, the Gnostic interpretation of the bible and Genesis in particular. While the orthodox might read the creation story as the literal truth, the Gnostics saw the whole story as a symbolic representation. If my understanding of Gnostic ideology is correct, then the pure and innocent state of being – represented by Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden – is spiritual. The Fall is the descent of humanity from the (spiritual) State of Grace to the material world that we now inhabit. Generally, this world is thought of as one of darkness – even evil – while the spiritual realm is one of light. This is the dualism I spoke of earlier and it includes the belief in a war in heaven between the forces of light and darkness.
In the orthodox religions it is all very simple: there is one God and that God created everything and rules his creation with the help of his angels. The devil is a “fallen” angel and he represents the dark side; the evil one who tempts us away from the path of obedience to the one true God. This God being the Old Testament Yahweh or Jehovah.
The Gnostic view is somewhat different and certainly more complex. For a start, the creator of the earth may well be known as Yahweh but Yahweh is not the One True God. There is a One True God, often referred to simply as “The One”. The One is unknowable: uncreated and omnipresent: the source of all. Out of the source came “emanations”, also known as aeons, some of which might be thought of as lesser gods. And it was one of these lesser gods that (who?) was the creator of our world: the Demiurge. The term Demiurge originates with Plato but his concept differed quite markedly from the later Christian Gnostics. While Plato also saw the Demiurge as a lesser god, he envisioned a benign, well meaning creator. The Gnostics, on the other hand, had no such sympathetic view of the originator of the material world. To them, the Demiurge was either incompetent or decidedly evil. Once again there is that dualism: the light of The One and the dark of the Demiurge. Good vs Evil. It really is as old as time itself and it forms, in one way or another, the basis of the Western Religious tradition, if not all religions.

Esoteric and Exoteric

So, we may safely say that the ancient esoteric beliefs never became fully-fledged mass religions in their own right. At least, not in the West. Political expediency demanded that the keys to heaven remained in the hands of the priesthood, not the individual. At best, these groups were tolerated, grudgingly, as minority sects under the control of mainstream orthodoxies. At worst – and often due to some arbitrary decision of the current hierarchy – they were persecuted almost out of existence.
What is important to understand about the esoteric message is that, at its core, it is all about personal spirituality. It describes the relationship between the individual and the divine: the cosmic oneness.  This relationship cannot be arbitrated by some priestly intermediary, passing judgement on behalf of an inexorable deity. It is the role of the priesthood that defines the political power of the mass religion.
It should be noted at this point that Muslim scholars might protest that there is no clerical hierarchy in Islam and that prayer is conducted directly between the individual and Allah without the need for an intermediary. Nevertheless, there are Ulema (scholars) and the Mullahs – roughly equivalent to a clerical title. Roles and responsibilities differ between the Shi’a or Sunni denominations but it would be naive to understate the level of influence – both religious and political – of these “interpreters of the law”.
Similarly, the Jewish Rabbi is also seen and an interpreter of the law. But who’s law? Well, God’s law, of course. So, once again, the Rabbi is the earthly intermediary who will pass judgement in the name of God. When it comes down to it, whether you are a Mullah or a Rabbi and you call yourself a scholar, what you are doing is intervening between an individual and God. And in a theocracy, that puts you in a position of power. But when it comes to hegemony, nobody does it like the Christians. From the time of the first bishops of Rome, world domination has been at the top of the To-Do list.
But was it always so? Was this the future envisaged by the members of this odd Jewish sect two thousand years ago? My personal opinion is that there was no such agenda. If someone were to offer me one trip – and only one – in a time machine, then the early days of New Testament Jerusalem is where and when I would choose to go. I’d love to interview a few of the locals. I imagine getting answers such as these:
“Christians? Never heard of them. But there was a group who talked about that kind of stuff. I think they were with the Essenes but not exactly – more like an offshoot, you know? Nazarites I think they called themselves. The Baptist was one of them – maybe their leader, if they had such a thing.”
“Jesus? Nope, sorry. Oh, you mean Yeshua? Yes, I think he was the chosen one – you know, he was the one they chose to fulfil the old prophecies of Isaiah and others. I think he even said that he was Isaiah reborn. Anyway, he was supposed to ride into Jerusalem on an ass – we all came out to see him – but the Romans got hold of him and nailed him to a tree. Some say that Yeshua wanted to be crucified. They say that was important to his mission.”
“Miracles? Well we heard of some strange stuff but that was not Yeshua, that was Simon Magus. Some people said he was the son of God. Some even thought he was God himself, in human form.”
“Yes, I followed a teacher for a while – brother of Yeshua as a matter of fact. Some called him the Teacher of Righteousness but there have been others who have used that title in the old days. Then this other one called Saul – or is it Paul now? – he came and stirred things up a lot. Split the group in two; some went with James, others followed this Paul. He says he wants to allow Gentiles into the temple, or something. Says Yeshua came back from the dead and showed him the light.”
OK, maybe just a silly fantasy but – as well as questioning a few of the myths about early Christianity – I’m trying to make the point that a new religion can be instigated out of the need to bring the old one back into focus … and that focus is not about controlling the masses. It is not about sin and judgement. It is not about ceremonies or circumcision or commandments. To repeat myself: the real message at the core of all religions is the nature of the relationship between the individual and the source. And that relationship is founded upon love, not fear.
Unfortunately, that message usually gets buried and forgotten under the weight of orthodoxy and dogma. Here’s how it might play out:
  • We start with a small group and a powerful message.
  • The message captures the imagination of a small but significant section of the public.
  • The incumbent orthodoxy detects a growing threat and begins a campaign of suppression.
  • The new movement attracts the disaffected, the zealous and the ambitious. A counter campaign of resistance and martyrdom ensues. The original message is already lost.
  • If enough converts can be won over, the new religion begins to challenge the old. The ambitious rise to the top along with influential and powerful converts from the old religion.
  • Political expediency and bureaucracy dictates the dogma. A new orthodoxy is born looking remarkably similar to the one it has replaced.
Now I would not go so far as Dawkins or Hitchens in claiming that religion has always been, without exception, the source of unspeakable evil throughout our history. Because of its detachment from its original message, religion is no different to any other mechanism when used to further political ends and control the masses. Indeed, there might be a case for saying that, in some instances and because of its inherent moral code, religion has actually mitigated against even more bloody genocide. But neither can it be argued that organised religion has never played a major part in many of the most bloodthirsty and shameful episodes of human history. And never has religion been more ruthless than when it turns its blood lust inwards: upon other religions or even upon its own flock. Think of the Inquisition and the Crusades. Read about what happened in the Albigensian Crusade in southern France in the 13th century. This was the mass slaughter of Christians by Christians by order of the Pope.
However, while some of these abominable acts have been committed in the name of God and in the fervour of religious zealotry, I cannot accept that a belief in the original Christian message (which is, in essence, the same message at the heart of all religions) could motivate someone to perpetrate torture and murder. The evil of which we speak is down to the usual suspects: greed, ambition, power and fear – especially fear.
There is a lot more I would have liked to say with regard to religious history and its esoteric roots. I would have liked to have gone even further back into the history and influence of shamanic practices and revelatory experiences through the use of consciousness altering drugs and trance rituals. Perhaps another day? In the meantime, I can recommend Graham Hancock’s book on the subject: Supernatural.