The historian of religions is in a better position than anyone to promote the knowledge of symbols... It is in the history of religions that we meet with the "archetypes," of which only approximate variants are dealt with by psychologists and literary critics.
~ Mircea Eliade
quoted in Religion after Religion
In the opening pages of the book quoted above, the author begins to unpack what he refers to as the "Jung-Eliade school of thought." He refers to "an 'illuminist' sense of scholarship as theosophy" that characterizes the work of Gershom Sholem (Judaic studies), Henry Corbin (Islamic studies), and our old pal Mircea Eliade (covering the entire mythic waterfront). Immediately following that, the author writes...
This radical approach to the academy was (literally) underwritten by a Yale graduate, the philanthropist Paul Mellon.
<churchlady>Now, isn't that interesting!</churchlady>
Because yeah, we're talking the Paul Mellon of Carnegie-Mellon fame, who was also a major benefactor of Carl Jung. I just knew I was going to be able to work a couple of Robber Barons in here! Well, that's one. And we've already had* Henry Ford, in a slightly different (but is it, really?) context. [*Or soon will have, if I can extract the salient bits from my previous insanity in posts like stereoarchetypes of the collective unconscience and Henry Ford goes to Atlantis.]
But why is it interesting -- maybe even important -- that Jung and Eliade form a "school of thought"? Because it is on this base that the brave new world of NewAge++ has been quietly, while we were sleeping, built. And it's a special world. For special people. In a word: elites. And why is that interesting? Allow me to quote from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:
And why is that interesting? Because it's one of the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder -- a special affliction of the spiritually arrogant and politically intolerant precursors and founders of the twisted NewAge++ madness that -- far from being hidden in little pockets of cute and harmless weirdness here and there -- is being broadcast via cable, movies, newspapers, bookstores, you name it, all over the planet. The New Colonialism. The New Manifest Destiny.
Mircea Eliade -- the darling of sensitive New Age religiosity everywhere; and it is everywhere; look around -- was a Fascist. Not in a manner of speaking; with a capital F.
The Poles' resistance in Warsaw is a Jewish resistance. Only yids are capable of the blackmail of putting women and children in the front line, to take advantage of the Germans' sense of scruple. The Germans have no interest in the destruction of Romania. Only a pro-German government can save us.... What is happening on the frontier with Bukovina is a scandal, because new waves of Jews are flooding into the country. Rather than a Romania again invaded by kikes, it would be better to have a German protectorate.
Also openly Fascist was Julius Evola, one of Eliade's lifelong friends. Together with René Guénon and Frithjof Schuon, this group constitutes the core of another little known but highly influential school of thought: Traditionalism (see Follow Your Shiny Bliss, right under the picture of the band, Oswald and the Decline of the Westettes). Here's another picture. Recognize either of these dudes? No, probably not. Chances are excellent that you've never even heard of Guénon or Schuon. Lucky you. But that doesn't mean you've escaped their surprisingly pervasive influence. Ever heard of Aldous Huxley? The Perennial Philosophy? Getting warmer. Here Huxley defines the philosophia perennis as...
the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being -- the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditionary lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions.But it goes back further than Huxley...
...the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialised.
[NOTE: Both the above quotes are cited in "The Perennial Philosophy" by W.T.S. Thackara, Sunrise magazine, April/May 1984, Theosophical University Press]
from the back cover of The Betrayal of Tradition: Essays on the Spiritual Crisis of Modernity
(Library of Perennial Philosophy)
To hazard an off-the-cuff answer to that last question, above, oh I dunno... freedom from irrational fear and superstition, the boot heel of spiritually rationalized entitlement, elitism and religious terrorism? Just guesses.
Sound a bit too extreme? Let me introduce you to Harry Oldmeadow, a writer who has done much to promote awareness of Traditionalism. He's a major proponent, not a detractor, so the following passage carries a lot more weight than if someone like oh say myself were saying the same things (which, nota bene, I am)...
Orientalism, Racial Theory and the Allure of FascismAfter naming several more names today associated with New Age "spirituality," Oldmeadow continues...
Let us consider two of these figures, Evola and Eliade, in a little more detail. Julius Evola, painter, philosopher, "disciple" of René Guénon, colleague of Mircea Eliade, orientalist and fascist ideologue, translated into Italian The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a poisonous anti-Semitic work whose authors included the racial ideologue of Nazism, Alfred Rosenberg. Evola claimed that this document, whether true or not, fitted the facts. (p. 376)
So OK, forget Schuon and Guénon for now. Chances are a lot better that you have heard of a guy named Huston Smith, whose book The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions has sold well over two and a half million copies. Note the nod to Tradition there. It's no accident. In a sort of sequel titled Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions, Smith rails against science and related modern evils including "Darwinism."
In Rational Mysticism, author John Horgan begins the book with a chapter on "Huston Smith's Perennial Philosophy."
In April 1999, I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend a meeting named, misleadingly, "Science and Consciousness." Held in a hotel modeled after a Mayan pyramid, the five-day conference was actually a New Age bazaar, serving up diverse products for boosting physical, mental, and spiritual energy.... I came to this meeting in part to steep myself in mysticism, New Age style. But a more important goal was meeting Huston Smith... a walking, talking embodiment of the perennial philosophy. (p.15)
A few pages later, Horgan writes:
...Smith clearly cherishes his entheogenic experiences. His first took place on New Year's Day, 1961, in Newton, Massachusetts, at the home of Timothy Leary, then a Harvard psychology professor just beginning to investigate psychedelics. Leary gave Smith two capsules of mescaline. A few hours later Smith felt he was witnessing the reality described in the ancient Hindu Vedas and other mystical texts. He was seeing through the mundane reality around him to the ground of being, the clear light of the void underlying all things.
No, he was stoned. He was tripping, dude. Now, let me be clear on this, as Nixon would say. In answer to Hendrix's quintessential queries -- are you experienced? have you ever been experienced? -- I can safely answer with a resounding yes. More times than I can count. It's been well over 20 years since I dropped, but I was there, yeah. I know what it feels like to be one of the beautiful people. And without taking anything away from that experience, without any attempt to reduce or belittle it, I can also say with some confidence that it is not something fundamentally removed from "mundane reality." The inherently gnostic aversion to "this world" is what brought these motherfuckers down. It was their way of making the psychedelic experience conceptually safe, colonizing it with "oriental" conceptualizations that tamed it, domesticated it, "spiritualized" it. My objection to these perennialist ex-hippie faux filosofers is not that they did drugs -- oh yeah, how shocking! -- but that, after doing all those drugs, they missed the boat.
The perennialists hold that religious traditions differ only in their outer doctrinal, legal, liturgical, and institutional manifestations, which constitute the mere surface levels of religious and ethical experience. Hence, they maximize the similarities between the mystical and ethical cores of the world's religions. As a corollary, they minimize the importance of the differences and historical-cultural specificities of particular religious traditions.
For instance, Horgan writes (in Rational Mysticism p. 46) that "some perennialists have been dismissive or even hostile to Judaism. Joseph Campbell, the celebrated mythologist, is a case in point." And Oldmeadow (in Journeys to the East p. 111) goes into far more detail on America's favorite PBS myth monger, preceding his remarks with this quote from Religion after Religion (p. 142):
It is not an accident that a certain sort of post-Christianity, so-called New Age Religion, emerged during the Cold War. Religious intellectuals like the Historians of Religions [Eliade, Gershom Sholem, Henry Corbin] spearheaded a notion of religion that seemed to transcend denominational boundaries even as it presumed some kind of transcendent unity to world religions. The geopolitical antagonism of the Cold War, seemingly so constitutive of the age, stimulated at the same time what seemed like a planetary ecumenicism. This Eranos kind of public gnosis, popularized by Jung, Campbell, and Eliade, could espouse its identity, seriatim, with alchemy, shamanism, yoga, Templarism. Such a secularized esoterism, of course, is now familiar in its subsequent popularized forms as (tellingly) New Age Religion. Their characteristically promiscuous application of correspondences, often claimed as a Hermetic principle, underwrote a riot of analogies.Immediately following this quote, Oldmeadow writes -- and you might want to strap on your seat-belt for this last bit of today's ride:
There is much in Campbell's work which is unattractive: a deep-seated animus towards and dismissal of the great Occidental monotheisms and more generally a hostility to institutionalized religion which is often treated in simplistic terms and in strident tone; a facile and tedious diffusionism often asserted with little or no scholarly support; a tendency to surrender to glib dichotomies which did little to mask his own prejudices; an inability to understand the ways in which his own American background limited his intellectual horizons; a sometimes sentimental and psychologistic reading of Vedantic monism (a common failing amongst self-styled American Vedantins!); an appropriation of mythic materials which, from one vantage point, might be seen as a form of cultural imperialism; an oscillation between the extremes of Orientalist romanticism and a recoil into Western prejudices (most clearly evidenced in his wildly fluctuating perceptions of Indian society -- his stereotypical misunderstanding of the caste system, for instance); the reduction of metaphysics to a purely psychic realm (a reduction more severe and more facile than we find in Jung, Zimmer or Eliade); a covert strain of anti-Semitism (more openly expressed in his personal life). One can see something of Campbell's simultaneous insight and myopia in a characteristic claim such as "religion is a misinterpretation of mythology." Then, too, there is something offensive in Campbell's collusion in the popular perception of him as a jnanin -- and here one is reminded of another highly talented popularizer who was all too often mistaken for a sage, Alan Watts.Other than that, one could argue in Campbell's favor that, well, at least Bill Moyers liked him.
NOTE: I'm carving off the the still unfinished extra 2000+ words of this for a follow-on post. Otherwise it feels as if I'll never be done with this monster that I've been whittling away at for a month now. The second half will mostly be concerned with Carl Jung. Stay tuned...
"...whether it is time to leave eliade behind or whether we can yet learn from either his insights or his errors... whether eliade makes any lasting contribution..."