Author of the Month

The Secret History of the World (cont.)
By Jonathan Black

It was brooding on these sorts of things, especially the dates of the monuments on the Giza plateau, that led me to think I might have a contribution to make as a writer. In my day job I was editing and publishing at different times not only Graham and Robert, but also Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight, Robert Temple, David Rohl and Michael Baigent. In my spare time I had also developed an interest in esoteric philosophy, in theosophy with a big and small 't', in the Rosicrucians and their modern representatives, the Anthroposophists. I used to delight in finding obscure and weird old books about the esoteric and mystical in second hand bookshops - for example the works of magi like Paracelsus and Jacob Boehme.

And it struck me that, although, as far as I knew, none of these alternative historians were - at that stage at any rate - much interested in esoteric philosophy, many of their discoveries were confirming its tenets, regarding, for example, the claims that the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid are much older than conventional history allows or related claims regarding the historical reality of Atlantis and the Flood.

If new evidence was being unearthed that suggested that extremely important traditions like these have some basis in historical reality, the question naturally arises: what other esoteric traditions about history might also be true? So I planned to try to weave together into one narrative historical lore from different esoteric traditions from around the world. In order to achieve one narrative thread, I decided to focus on what they had in common - discarding what are sometimes called 'cultural accidentals' - and also to focus, where possible, on traditions that chime in with the latest discoveries of alternative history.

I very quickly realized that this if this history was to be in one volume rather spreading across many, many volumes, it could not incorporate debate as to whether its claims - the arguments for and against the Sphinx being some twelve thousand years old, for example - are true. This would have to be a 'take it or leave it' history. If readers wanted to follow up these debates, the pros and cons, they'd have to turn to the works referenced at the back. (In the case of the Sphinx these would be books by Graham and Robert, John Anthony West, Robert Temple and Schwaller de Lubicz.)

After a while I began to formulate a theory as to what these esoteric traditions all had in common: they describe the ways that the supernatural works in the world. Gods, angels and spirits may have different names in different places and at different times, but, according to secret teachings everywhere, the patterns they help make, the shapes they give to our lives are the same. Therefore The Secret History of the World describes patterns that wouldn't be there if materialistic science accounted for everything.

Of course it is quite impossible to prove supernatural events on the page. I couldn't do that even if I wanted to. But I did entertain a very big - perhaps insanely big - ambition. I tried to weave all these different mystical traditions about our beginnings and endings and great turning points in between together into one epic imaginative vision. My aim was to see if this imaginative vision formed a coherent, cogent whole that might be set against the scientific materialist one. I couldn't think of anyone who had tried to do this since Milton, and he had done it in very different circumstances, when scientific materialism was beginning to roll back the idealism that had been the universal philosophy up to that point.

Madly, I asked myself if it were possible to create an imaginative vision that would be a sort of mirror image to Milton's - written at a time when scientific materialism seems to many to be beginning to fray and look a bit thin at the edges.

I wanted to write a book that would be an experience, not a collection of arguments. So the deep structure of the book is as follows. I try to show patterns in history that are perhaps deeper than the laws of economics, the effects of climate change and the conventional, materialistic view of politics that interest modern, academic historians. In other words I show history operating according to what I call - after the poet Rainer Maria Rilke - the Deeper Laws. Then at the end of the book I invite readers to look at their own lives to see if they can't find these same Deeper Laws operating there.

The Secret History of the World invites readers to trust their own personal experience in preference to the say-so of academic experts. I have known many academics as teachers, authors and friends. Naturally I would trust their judgment when it comes to their fields of research. I wouldn't always extend the same trust when it comes to questions of how I ought to live my life. (If you're hesitating on this point, just think of the average don's dress sense!)

* * *

The world is a much more mysterious place than we have been brought up to believe. There are other ways of knowing than the one we have been taught to see as the exemplar and paradigm of knowing..

The Secret History of the World is packed with examples of people who have known important things and not by the scientific method. The priests and artists of the Egyptian and Hindu temples knew of and understood the function of the pineal gland thousand of years before it was 'discovered' by German and English anatomists more or less simultaneously in 1866. Robert Temple has shown that the Egyptian priests knew that Sirius is a three star system, something only confirmed by French astronomers using radio telescopes in the second half of the twentieth century. According to Rudolf Steiner - the founder of Anthroposophy - knowledge of the evolution of the species from marine life to amphibian to land animal to anatomically modern human was encoded thousands of years of ago in the imagery of the constellations. Jonathan Swift was deeply immersed in esoteric philosophy. In Gulliver's Travels he predicted the existence and orbital periods of the moons of Mars. A hundred years later, when astronomers first observed these moons using the latest telescopes, they named them Phobos and Demos - fear and terror - so awestruck were they by Swift's evident supernatural powers.

How did these guys know? Where did their 'powers' come from? Isn't there something going on we don't fully understand?

Again the intellectual establishment would like to us to see a very clear distinction between modern scientific endeavour and the occult, seen as primitive and superstitious. But as I show in my book the line is not always clear.

We've already touched on Newton, Boyle, Hooke and Harvey. Newton's rival in devising the calculus, Leibniz, made his advances while studying the Cabala. Paracelsus, the great Swiss magus, a great practical alchemist sometimes credited with inventing the principles that lie behind homeopathy, has also been called the father of modern experimental medicine. Swedenborg, the most famous psychic and esoteric teacher of his day, also discovered the cerebral cortex and engineered the largest dry dock in the world. Perhaps significantly Darwin formulated his theory of evolution shortly after his friend Friedrich Max Muller had made the first translations into a European language of the great esoteric texts of Hindu literature. Freud was very interested in the Cabala as boy, and his model of the mind - super ego, ego and id - can be seen as a materialistic version of the cabalistic one. Jung based his account of what he called the Seven Great Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious on the spirits of the planets as they have always been understood in esoteric lore. Thomas Edison, the inventor the phonograph and so in a sense the godfather of all recorded sound, and Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, made their discoveries while researching into the spirit worlds. Edison tried to make a radio that would tune into the spirit worlds. Even television was invented a result of scientists trying to capture psychic influences on gases fluctuating in front of a cathode ray tube.

Scientists from Newton through Tesla to Einstein have also talked about their great discoveries coming to them suddenly in a dream or in a vision. Einstein even compared the process to 'the three degrees of initiation' of the ancients. I was fascinated to hear from Graham Hancock, when he was first telling me about Supernatural, a book that would be extremely influential on my own thinking, that Francis Crick cracked the code of the double helix and launched modern genetic medicine while he was on an LSD trip.

The reality is that we all perceive things in altered states of consciousness - in dreams, visions, prayerful states, mediations, perhaps under the influence of drugs, and when we're struck by hunches and premonitions. The key questions is: are any of the things we perceive in these altered states real or are they all delusions?

In other words: Do altered states bring other ways of knowing?

Only a fool would deny that science has brought untold benefits to the world. (And I don't mean 'fool' in an interesting esoteric way, I mean just plain stupid.) Science has made our lives safer, easier, more comfortable, longer and given us more spare time for enjoying ourselves, for art and speculation. However these benefits have come at a cost.

We have been enabled to make scientific leaps forward because we have been so focussed on the material world. We have constructed a practical, commonsensical form of consciousness for ourselves which is great for tying up our shoelaces in the morning, and navigating our way around our mechanical world in our cars and planes and fending for ourselves and our families.

But other, more subjective forms of consciousness, other ways of knowing have been squeezed out, devalued and discarded. Esoteric philosophy is the systematic cultivation of these other ways of knowing. It is also the richest tradition of thinking about 'the ultimate questions'. The more I researched my history, the more I discovered just how many of the great men and women of history were steeped in it. I began to wonder if it mightn't even be the case that every intelligent person checks it out at some time or other.

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