Paying respect to the lineage and the teachers
I’m a nerd. Much of my learning has come through reading, and in this way falling in love with the depth and antiquity of the wisdom traditions of both my ancestors and other lineage lines. But the idea of this course is to synthesise what I’ve come to treasure into practices, with just a small amount of theory. I adore studying philosophy, so that’s going to be a challenge for me – I’d love to rave about the history of ideas with anyone who’ll join me, but I know it’s not really my skill set, and there’s something that, to me, feel far deeper that we’re aiming for in this course.
Despite recommending you read, or at least browse, the two books Plant Intelligence and Songspirals, there’s no required reading. I know reading isn’t for everybody. But if it is for you, then there’s many books and authors that I am delighted to introduce you to, if you don’t already know them.
I will be recommending some podcasts and audios. I’m grateful that there’s so much amazing material generously shared at this time – brilliant teachers speaking directly to what we’ll be exploring.
My favourite podcast, one that’s had a significant influence on my life, is Josh Schrei’s The Emerald. He’s inspired by many of the same sources and themes as me, and has a deep practice and experience in the mythic terrain. I reached out to him three years ago to suggest he might be interested in researching the Imaginal – next podcast episode, he was all over it! Ever since then we’ve conversed and collaborated. I consider him my main teacher, someone following the same currents, but further along in the stream. Each episode that comes out seems relevant to what’s happening in my life – the latest is on the theme of Adornment, something I had scheduled into our program, but the degree to which he uncovers the depths of adornment is astonishing, and deeply moving to me. I hope you listen to it:
This episode, Animism is Normative Consciousness, is a particularly good overview of the terrain we’ll be exploring.
Weird Studies is my second favourite podcast. It explores art and philosophy through the lens of the ‘weird’ – that which defies rational understanding. This episode on Jean Gebser also touches on many of the thinkers who have helped shape my understanding of co-becoming, including Rainer Maria Rilke, Goethe, Steiner, Jung, Ken Wilber and Teilhard de Chardin. And this episode On Beauty is just stunning.SHWEP – The Secret History of Western Esotericism is my latest podcast to binge. It’s dense, he talks fast, but it’s blowing my mind. This episode with a professor of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaff is very dense, very nerdy, and giving me much to think about. There’s some extracts from an article of his at the very end of this page that are fascinating.
There are many books that have meant much to me on this learning journey – here’s just a selection of particularly inspiring works – I hope you enjoy exploring this list. Some are theory, others are shamanic practitioners, most are interesting cross-overs between the two.
Green Man, Earth Angel – Tom Cheetham
Sand Talk – Tyson Yunkaporta
A Story About Feeling – Bill Neidje
Tao Te Ching – Ursula le Guin translation
Long Life, Honey in the Heart – Martin Prechtel
Of Water and the Spirits – Malidoma Some
News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness – Robert Bly
The Master and his Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World – Iain McGilchrist
The Spell of the Sensuous – David Abram
The Passion of the Western Mind – Richard Tarnas
A Blue Fire – James Hillman
The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology – Robert Bringhurst
Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy – Barbara Ehrenreich
The Red Book – Carl Jung
I have also made my unpublished PhD A Secret History of Listening available to you, with its extensive reference list, and it’s bumpy journey through this terrain. I’ve sought in that text to convey the experience of co-becoming – to write with, not about. While also musing on this time and place and how that requires us to adapt ancient methods to our contemporary context.
MiscellaneousNew works are always coming out – just released, I browsed this book the other day, and it’s completely on topic:
Our very sense of a Western cultural identity has been built, over many centuries, on systematic patterns of critique and polemical rejection directed at a whole range of worldviews, intellectual traditions, or spiritual practices that were perceived and promoted as incompatible with the fundamental values and assumptions of Western civilization.
…you cannot understand “esotericism” without placing it in a much wider context – that of the history of Western culture itself. At the most basic level, the box that we have labeled with that name contains more or less everything that you (and all of us) have been taught to perceive as “different,” “weird,” “problematic,” “questionable,” and even “dangerous” because it does not fit the dominant, mainstream intellectual paradigms on which our very society is built. Another way of saying this is that our perception of “esotericism” is the outcome of a long process of polemical exclusion in which “we” have been defining and defending “our” “Western” identity against everything that “we” reject as incompatible with who we are, or aspire to be.
you cannot understand “esotericism” at a deep level without questioning those hidden or explicit ideologies of Western superiority that have defined the very project of modernity as such, including its imperialist expansion and efforts to colonize the rest of the world. If you doubt this, then just think of the popular idea that “we over here” have science, but “they over there” have nothing but primitive magic.22
All the “weird stuff” that we used to put in the “esotericism” box, to keep it safely apart from what we thought “Western culture” should be really all about, will have to be taken out of that box again and brought back to the table. It must be studied seriously and without prejudice, like any other manifestation of Western culture, and must be restored to its legitimate place in our narratives about the complex history that has been unfolding in our parts of the world over the past two and a half thousand years. Essentially, that is what we are doing in the academic study of esotericism.
Once we take such a project seriously, we cannot keep thinking about “Western culture” the way we used to think about it. Our traditional stories or grand narratives about “the West” must be exposed for the ideological fictions that they really are and have always been. The well-known triumphalist storylines of Western superiority will have to be replaced by extremely different but, hopefully, more fair and accurate historical narratives of “Western culture.”