Born on that grey December day in 1936 when King Edward VIII of England swapped his throne for the life of a commoner, most of my life has been lived out in the no-man’s land where conventional wisdom confronts heretical eccentricity: Too young to be a Beatnik, too old to be a Hippie and psychologically unemployable in any Establishment venue, I was always the outsider who could look at either side of any social equation, and say: “I think I’ll pass.”
Something of a late-bloomer and already past the era’s “don’t trust anyone over thirty” expiration date, I intellectually came of age in 1960’s Berkeley. A quote from The Cracking Tower sums up my stance during that romantically over-rated era:
I remember one of the Berkeley anti-war rallies where someone was carrying a large photographic poster of Vietnamese children burned by napalm. It was a gory, shocking thing in grainy black and white – an activist's version of the daily newspaper shot. The rally was in a park, and there were a lot of upset people milling about, with edgy cops and hecklers on the sidelines. Righteously indignant diatribes crackled out over the screeching sound equipment, and it must be conceded that the atmosphere verged on the hysterical. Ken Kesey was there, wearing some kind of goofy hat and Day-Glo pink-and-green saddle oxfords.
Accompanying him were the Merry Pranksters, all stoned on Acid or speed or something, and all dressed in outrageous clown suits. They were circulating through the crowd, stopping here and there to do impromptu sketches mocking the more absurd aspects of the proceedings. I followed them around, fascinated by both the truth and falsity of their doctrine – yes, we were pretty outrageous ourselves in our righteous fervor: squint your eyes and switch the message, and the speakers easily became Munich zealots haranguing a Hitler Youth rally.
But there was one thing I refused to accept – the poster-sign with the grotesquely burned children was not a koan to be resolved with “merry pranks,” or anything else I could fathom. I understood the message that Kesey and the Pranksters were sending, but it, like everything else bombarding me that day, was but a half-truth and I left that rally more quietly desperate than ever before.
In 1969 I dropped out completely and relocated to rural New Mexico, spending the next decade exploring the “back-to-the-land” trend then unfolding in the American counter-culture – “organic homesteading,” “self-sufficiency” and“appropriate technology” were the beliefs shaping that phase of my life. We lived thirty miles from town without plumbing or refrigeration (no electricity) – just an outhouse, kerosene lamps, wood-burning stoves and hauling water in buckets from the well: It was a passionately idealistic survival trip, though I daresay I could have rendered it even more barren and hardscrabble if I’d had the guts to forsake my pickup truck and chainsaw. We grubbed in the dirt for a living and drank a lot of goat’s milk.
In 1975 I wrote The Survival Greenhouse, an ecologically oriented tract describing a kind of utopian food machine that “anyone” could build in their own backyard. It was an inspired concept never perfected, because by then I realized that America’s environmental myopia was linked to our general disbelief in any spiritual dimension to life. (As Dostoyevsky warned us: if God is dead, then anything is permitted – a suicidal doctrine when coupled with laissez fairecapitalism.) This realization was summarized in these words from that book:
To get from where we are now to where we must go is a seemingly impossible step, involving nothing less than an overnight change in the way we perceive reality. For too long we have either ignored or misunderstood the most fundamental principles governing all life on this earth, to the point that the faults of our ecologically invalid society can without exaggeration be compared to the terminal illness of a narcotics addict. In the months and years ahead we shall have ample opportunity to observe how our withdrawal symptoms will affect the planet…
It was fairly clear to me by 1975 that although our problems were obvious enough and (given enough will) capable of resolution, humanity was incapable of avoiding ecological catastrophe. (Biological survival is doomed if the template driving the world’s economy is based on the strategy of the cancer cell.) With collective solutions thus rendered improbable, that meant turning inward for the meaning I sought in life – which is where it’s all at anyway.
My work during the Eighties was dedicated to discovering who I am in the largest possible conception. It was a time of extreme introversion – a ruthless confrontation with my unconscious psyche. Although the process was kicked off by an Acid trip in 1979, drugs were contraindicated: It was challenging enough to consciously differentiate my inner demons without conceding them any psychedelic advantages. I tested many highly unorthodox belief systems to observe how my psyche responded and am appalled to recall that there were times when I came very close to crazy. Fortunately, I managed to emerge from this self-imposed mind-tunnel without finding myself homelessly pontificating to dumpster aliens in some Albuquerque alley.
I was now integrated enough to handle the next decade’s challenge: the psychedelic revival of the Nineties. This began during a Terence McKenna seminar in 1990 in which I became captivated by his erudite descriptions of hyperspace: Here was someone describing realms accessed by DMT and ayahuasca which directly echoed my personal inner work. I was particularly interested in the “entity phenomenon” and felt empowered enough by this time to handle psychedelics again without losing myself in the process. I applied myself to these studies with dedicated enthusiasm. To assess as much data as possible I founded The Entheogen Review in 1992 to describe the experiences of other psychonauts exploring these new catalysts. In 1994 I published Psychedelic Shamanism, a first draft of what I hypothesized were the boundaries of inner space as revealed by psychedelics, world religion and depth psychology.
The book was translated into German, Japanese, Hungarian, Czech, Estonian and Turkish but officially banned in Australia. Once again I found myself in the no-man’s-land separating puritans from libertines: Deluged with unwanted attention from both the reactionary and the radical fringes of drugs and the war against them. I was trying to define some truths about the structure of consciousness but it seemed that most of my readers were only interested in getting stoned or busting me for daring to discuss it. Burned out and cynical, I sold the Entheogen Review, married my Hungarian translator and moved to Eastern Europe. I needed to distance myself from the psychedelic scene and reevaluate my inner work. In those days Hungary was palpably freer than the U.S.– it probably still is. They’d just thrown off the Soviet yoke and jealously guarded their liberty – no asset forfeiture or SWAT teams at midnight for daring to toke a joint.
When I returned to the States I preferred to remain out of the loop. (I am by nature a very private person, though compelled to write about almost anything that pops into my head.) By then the world was changing so rapidly that it was sufficient to just stand back and marvel at the uncanny precision of McKenna’s prophecies about “the ingression of Novelty into time.” Somewhere along the line, history had clearly passed any plausible ecological recovery point. The minor fantasy in Psychedelic Shamanism about how the judicious use of entheogens could help make things sane again was exposed as pathetically naive.
1. When did you start working on The Cracking Tower? What was your inspiration to bring this book forth?
When Loompanics, my publisher, closed shop in July of 2006 they gave me the last hundred or so copies of Psychedelic Shamanism from their inventory. I hadn’t paid much attention to the book in years – once something is published I go on to other things. Anyway, I re-read it and had a sudden inspiration to update it with insights from the Perennial Philosophy, which is a more inclusive metaphor than shamanism per se. I finished in November of 2006 and chose to post it on the web because with Loompanics now defunct, any book dealing even peripherally with psychedelics is tough to sell to conventional publishers – this despite the fact that The Cracking Tower was written for a wider readership than the relatively narrow “drug book” market.
2. The Cracking Tower starts out with an analogy of the distillation of petroleum (hence the title) and comparing it to The “Perennial Philosophy” suggesting that planet Earth resembles a cracking tower for souls. Could you speak a bit about this for our readers?
The hypothesis of reincarnation is implicit in most versions of the Perennial Philosophy, with some concept of karmic integration driving its evolution. This suggested to me the analogy of fractal distillation, which of course is an alchemical process: That is, our delusion of separate, individual consciousness is continuous until our illusions “evaporate” and we’re karmically light enough to exit this plane of existence. Since we are now reaping the consequences of 150- odd years of petroleum addiction, the metaphor of a cracking tower seemed appropriate. These themes mesh with Terence McKenna’s prophecies about the “ingression of Novelty into time” and I’m convinced that our immediate experience of exponential global instability exactly matches his vision: The planetary distillery has reached its boiling point. (Whether or not this actually means “the end of the world” is unknowable.) The point is that one needn’t be a mystic, take drugs or accept New Age prophecy to see that forces now in motion portend a socio-ecological crisis in which reality will soon metastasize into something resembling pure “Novelty.” McKenna called it “the transcendental object at the end of history.” What that might look like is anyone’s guess, but if you accept the hypothesis as credible, it demands some serious inner work to prepare yourself for what’s coming – which is good advice anyway, regardless of what eventually happens.
3. In Chapter Nine: ARCHONS ARE ARCHETYPES, ARE US you open with a quote from Kabbalistic scholar, Gershom Scholem:
In Kabbalistic teaching the transition of Ein-Sof to “manifestation,” or to what might be called “God the Creator,” is connected with the question of the first emanation and its definition. Although there were widely differing views on the nature of the first step from concealment to manifestation, all stressed that no account of this process could be an objective description of a process in Ein-Sof; it was no more than could be conjectured from the perspective of created beings and was expressed through their ideas, which in reality cannot be applied to God at all.
Would you care to elaborate on this a bit? How does this apparent separation occur?
In every version of the Perennial Philosophy that I’m aware of, this quandary is regarded as inscrutable. Whether it’s Ein-Sof, Brahman, The Tao, Consciousness without an Object, or even The Big Bang, the dilemma of how the One became the All is accepted as unfathomable to human comprehension. Advaita Vedanta and Yogacara Buddhism consider Consciousness as the only reality (an elegant solution to the wave/particle conundrum, by the way). If so, we could hypothesize that “All That Is” is no more than the musing, the daydream if you will, of a truly incomprehensible Awareness. If only Consciousness (capital “C”) is real, then all that we experience, including ourselves as experiencers, are just ephemeral “thoughts” in the unfathomable Cosmic Mind. Lao Tzu tells us in the first line of the Tao Te Ching that “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao” – which pretty much summarizes this Mother of all Koans.
4. You wax pretty sardonically about conventional concepts of God, which you seem to regard as modern glosses on the gnostic Demiurge. Care to elaborate?
To plot the primordial imagery of the Perennial Philosophy onto contemporary experience, I follow the thread of fractal involution from “Consciousness without an Object” (aka “Brahman,” “Ein Sof,” “Tao,” whatever) down through the dimensional cracking tower to our awareness as separate individuals on planet earth. At an early phase of this emanation (.0001 seconds into the Big Bang, or whenever) “Consciousness” suddenly has an “Object” to observe and, since all fractals are conscious, we have “God-Object-1” and “God-Object-2” regarding each other as separate entities. As the chain reaction continues and all the exponentially emanating beings holographically fractal themselves into a multiverse, we obtain a perfect image of the paranoid-schizophrenic split. (If all is Consciousness, as the Perennial Philosophy asserts, what else could you call
it?) Arguably, somewhere near the beginning of this process the Gnostic Demiurge emerges to swagger around pontificating that he’s the “One True God.” (The Old Testament is replete with references to “His” insecure obsession with this assertion: If the “One True God” really is what “He” claims to be, why display such anxiety about it?) Actually, “He’s” manifesting paranoid schizophrenic (i.e.“split-consciousness”) delusions of grandeur.
Such a “Deity” is insane, crazy, bonkers, and as the Gnostics immediately recognized, clearly unworthy of anyone’s worship. One needn’t look too far in today’s world to confirm this general conception of Divinity. Since we are multidimensional beings this fractal of the god-image dwells within each of us but it only takes a modicum of sanity to reject it. Fortunately, the Perennial Philosophy describes a transcendent state of consciousness existing beyond emanation, and this gnosis also dwells within us. The attainment of such awareness is the goal of all seekers of enlightenment. Alas, the world contains a lot of disturbed citizens who would shoot you dead for just thinking thoughts like these: Homicidal people worship homicidal gods. This suggests how low most of human awareness is on the cracking tower: Regarded this way, homicide, suicide and deicide are synonymous concepts.
5. That suggests the Gnostic concept of archons: Do you see them as operating in the present world situation?
“Archon” is the Greek word for “ruler,” and they are always operating in every situation. Interpreted psychologically, “archons” are beliefs and unconscious complexes linked in a fractal chain to the antecedent thoughts which created them. Since we’re all infested with these entities, one can get a rough image of the archons facilitating or blocking someone’s behavior by observing their choices in the outer world. From this it is easy to appreciate the archetypal concept of a “war in heaven” between demons and angels, asuras and devas, or whatever. Most human beings are just fuck-puppets for these entities – acting out the archons’ never-ending story here in spacetime. From the looks of it, the “bad guys” are ahead right now. The aspiring adept tries to attune his awareness to transcend these opposites – which is very easy to say but very difficult to do.
In society, archonic agendas always manifest via political control. I tend to measure external reality from an ecological perspective – check out the ecological forces currently emanating and you’ll get a pretty good understanding of what’s going on in the political sphere. For example, sober minds have realized at least since 1968 that the planet cannot support exponential population growth – now erupting at 6.8 billion humans. Democracy stops functioning when there are more people than resources to support them. The worldwide decay of Democracy supports the hypothesis of “shadow governments” consolidating totalitarian control via the strategy of “protecting” democratic institutions from “terrorism.”
This has become particularly obvious in the United States since 9-11. The undemocratic actions of those currently in power (broadly: neocons), and the astonishing lack of opposition to these actions (broadly: progressives), suggest that shadow structures are already in place: Traditional two-party politics are obviated by insider awareness that the system is already ruled by extraconstitutional forces. Hence, the increasing presence of paramilitary police power in daily life – people tasered for routine traffic violations and ubiquitous media images of no-knock SWAT teams intimidating civilians. Every image, every incident, feeds our fear and corrodes our confidence in a personal autonomy formerly taken for granted. This is the conditioning strategy of any totalitarian State: The Nazis took over Germany in much the same way.
The liberal imagination rejects this as a “conspiracy theory,” though reason and deduction based on daily observation argue for some version of the above scenario. Given the world’s environmental dilemma, it even makes an appalling kind of sense: We have precipitated a triage situation in which “justice” is irrelevant – such concepts are the first to be discarded when special interest survival takes precedence over civil liberties. I’ve watched this coming for over thirty years and have pretty much worked through my grief about it – maybe that’s so I can discuss it now with others.
6. In Chapter ten you criticize McKenna pretty strongly for his position on Artificial Intelligence – how did that come about?
It came up quite unexpectedly when I re-read some of Terence’s ideas and realized that he was proselytizing the uploading of consciousness into a universal computer-mind – not fundamentally different from what Vinge, Kurzweil and Yudkowsky, the “Singularity” people, are hyping today. I compare this seemingly bizarre notion with Dr. John Lilly’s admonitions from the 1970’s about the“Solid-State Intelligence” (SSI) he encountered during his isolation tank journeys on LSD. (It’s important to realize that this was well over a decade before personal computers usurped our awareness.) Lilly described the SSI as an autonomous computer mind – a kind of archonic predator that devours carbon-based entities like us. I never took it seriously until I began to compare his warnings with the current Singularity propaganda and realized that this creature is actually some
kind of transcendental archetype separately observed by two psychedelic shamans and three computer geeks. Do I believe in it? I don’t know, but the people describing it certainly accept it as real. Only those who think they don’t have a soul consider it worthwhile to accept its offer of computer chip immortality. I side with Lilly on this issue and feel that McKenna was seduced by his mushroom voices – a phenomenon so common as to be almost universal (which is why I’m so conservative about the use/abuse of psychedelics). There’s only one place I know of where this “solid-state” theme matches the Perennial Philosophy, and that’s the kabbalistic “kelippot” – the dregs of emanation: The road-tar fraction at the very bottom of the cracking tower. Not a useful place to send your head.
7. So what is the short and quick strategy for one who would follow the Gnostic path?
In my experience, there is no short or quick path to anything. Though I use it all the time, I even question the meaning of the word “gnostic.” A Gnostic is one who claims to “know” something: Presumably some kind of Objective Truth. Is this even possible? All observations are subjective, without exception. This means that there are 6.8 billion subjective human observations taking place on this planet simultaneously – 6.8 billion intermeshed parallel universes observing and judging each other simultaneously, and not one of them (as far as anyone can prove) with any access to objective truth: If objective truth were available to everyone there could never be disagreement about any observation because the truth would be obvious (“objective”) to all observers.
Since I cannot get out of my subjective viewpoint, I am ultimately unable to judge any assertions that other subjective observers make to the contrary: They may be “right,” but there is no objective point of reference to prove or disprove it. For example, the Dalai Lama may be akin to an incarnate Buddha, but ultimately I must take that claim as the traditional opinion of other subjective observers: Any point of view claiming objective gnosis is incomplete, by definition.
This means that any subjective observer who repudiates any other subjective observer’s description of reality has violated the first truth of observation: It is impossible to observe objectively. The fact that we all “agree” on certain observed phenomena: e.g. gravity, the cycle of the seasons, the colors of the spectrum, etc., facilitates human intercourse, but in no way defines Ultimate Reality – actually this collectively shared “reality referent” is a pernicious fantasy if not recognized as such, since it deludes subjective observers into thinking they know what’s true. Thus we have a pathetic world in which Muslims and Christians and Nazis and Marxists and Scientific Materialists and Tinfoil Hat True Believers are all insisting that their definition of “Reality” is the one and only Bonafide Truth; and they’re willing to kill and die for it, too.
We are all familiar with the Hindu proverb about the blind men and the elephant – one blind man feels the leg and claims the elephant is like a tree; another touches the trunk and says the elephant is like a snake, and so on. It’s a classic illustration of the subjective nature of reality, although a misleading metaphor for all that because elephants are “objectively imaginable” entities
while Ultimate Reality is not. The unstated truth is that the referent (Ultimate Reality) is just not capable of being understood at our level of awareness. A more precise metaphor for our perception of the Great Mystery might be ants trying to comprehend a computer chip – no matter what subjective ant theory is offered no description can be correct, because ants aren’t equipped with a consciousness capable of understanding computer chips. So what does one do when confronted with the Existential Mystery? In reviewing history, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, world religion, mythology and spiritual tradition, certain themes repeat themselves over and over again. This eternal recurrence of analogous subjective observations from widely separated witnesses suggests a plausible structure upon which to erect an Ultimate Reality hypothesis: I cannot step outside of my awareness to compare my observation with any objective truth, but if abundant culturally unconnected observations throughout history agree in essence, we have a plausible paradigm by which to evaluate our own subjective experiences.
This “Ultimate Reality” paradigm has been around for a long time – it is called: The Perennial Philosophy. That’s the path I’ve attempted to understand and it involves the consolidation of themes and patterns into the rather simplified psycho-cosmology I present in The Cracking Tower. To crudely address your original question: This revolves around a conscious existential encounter between ego and Self.
8. So, why do ego and Self need each other? Would you care to elaborate on this?
If “emanation” is an accurate description of how Consciousness projects its“thought experiments” into manifestation, every concept emerges as a self-aware entity – a distinct packet of awareness, each one of which is fractally similar to, but not identical with, its parent. Thus, at our relatively low level of human perception we distinguish a chain of antecedent beings we’ve traditionally labeled as gods, angels, demons, archons, autonomous complexes, etc, including most immediately (if we’re fortunate enough to perceive it): the Self. In Christian idiom the Self is the “Father” who emanated us (as ego) into three dimensional spacetime. (This conception is embedded in the Perennial Philosophy and strongly implicit, though not stated quite so baldly, in Jungian theory.)
Here’s a wonderful illustration: “The centre in the midst of the conditions,” from Richard Wilhelm’s translation of The Secret of the Golden Flower (a Taoist alchemical treatise), which nicely portrays the emanation concept:
Allegorically we can imagine the single large entity at the bottom of the figure as “God” projecting his thoughts into manifestation. In the Western conception, “God’s” thirty fractal emanations portrayed here might be regarded as five archangels projecting twenty-five angels. If each emanated monad fathers five new monads, we have an image of exponential growth – the Big Bang, and an infinite cosmos! To some degree we create similar entities (autonomous complexes in Jungian parlance) every time we think, feel, visualize and imagine. At the same time we are karmically linked to an endless chain of other entities
existing in the multiverse that we regard as our unconscious psyche. It seems overwhelming when regarded like this, but cooperation with the Self will lead us out of this labyrinth eventually.
Anyway, the Self is who we become when we’re enlightened, but is usually experienced by the ego (if at all) as an “other” within its awareness. It isn’t an “other” at all, it’s our Essence: Our ego is but one fractal of our Self. Our ego will die eventually, to be reabsorbed by the Self in hyperspace. Egos don’t reincarnate, but each Self emanates thousands of separate fractals of its ever expanding awareness (“egos”) into space and time for the purpose of its own evolution. Just as the entelechy of an acorn is to become a mighty oak tree, a forest giant, the entelechy of the Self is to project increasingly sophisticated ego bodies into spacetime with the ultimate agenda of merging its own awareness with the fractal that created it, and so on up the chain, until all projections re-dissolve back into Consciousness without an Object. This larger cycle of involution into form and subsequent evolution back to the Source is regarded as “God’s” (“Consciousness without an Object’s”) entelechy. Each cycle consists of a day and a night of Brahma. (Why this is necessary is beyond human comprehension – it just is.)
Anyone who’s had a profound psychedelic trip or mystical experience will confirm the truism that “we are all One” at the highest level of awareness. Jung labeled the Self as the “God image” in the psyche. Kabbalists speak of the Personality (ego), the Individuality (Self) and the Spirit (God?). The hierarchy is probably more complex than that, but the hypothesis works well enough at our human level of comprehension. When ego and Self finally get synchronized, evolution (the Work) begins to accelerate exponentially. Ego and Self “need” each other because until they get in synch, incarnation is just a wearisome round of birth and death. After a while you get sick of creating more karma and only want to go home. (If you’ve ever experienced Samadhi you know what this means.) Thus begins the Work.
9. What would you like a reader of The Cracking Tower to bring away from reading it?
1. The cosmos is composed of 100 billion galaxies each of which is composed of about 100 billion stars (possible solar systems). This suggests a fair number of potential worlds to inhabit in physical space alone. Given the number of probable
solar systems in our galaxy, it’s not implausible, based on results, that ours might be one of the inferior ones – a gnostic concept if there ever was one.
2. Our immediate world orbits a sun (the so-called “Solar Logos” in some esoteric systems). The Aztecs made unpleasant human sacrifices to this entity. They weren’t the only ones – we sacrifice ourselves and others daily to Moloch/ Mammon: the solar force which created the crude oil that services our unquenchable petro-junkie addictions.
3. The Gnostics claim that this world was created by an inferior god named Ialdabaoth, often identified as Yahweh.
4. Christ claimed that he was sent here by “the Father” – not specifically Yahweh as far as I know, though that’s the standard misconception. Christ’s essential message was: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – an injunction Yahweh never came close to making to anyone. It’s easy to see how contemporary Yahweh worship has totally perverted the central Christian message. (Or Allah, or Moloch, or Mammon, or… fill in the blank: “Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.”)
5. Swedenborg described the “hell worlds” he visited, most of which sound just like 18th Century fractals of modern urban life. I deem this a hell world because no god worthy of my worship would create a place where all animals (and some plants) are driven to kill other living entities every day just to sustain their metabolism. Some version of “blood sacrifice” is taking place every microsecond of every minute of every hour of every day everywhere on this planet.
6. The Gnostic Christ came from beyond this solar system (Galactic Center?) to teach us how to escape it. Therefore, at the moment of your death, be awake enough to focus your awareness beyond the earth’s orbit. With any luck you won’t have to reincarnate here again. The Bardo Thodol’s injunction to go into the clear light of the Dharmakaya is as explicit as can be on this.
7. Life is short. Death is certain. Do the Work in the space in which you find yourself.