Welcome back my friends to the Trenchant Edges, a daily-ish Newsletter where we discuss fringe ideas and try and extract the useful and interesting from the muck.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 53 seconds. Contains 1577 words
I’m your host and research junkie, Stephen Fisher. And today I’d like to talk about one of the less reputable, most profitable, and sometimes most interesting variety of contact with The Other.
Where your run of the mill UFO abductee will probably get themselves written off as a crazy person sharing a somewhat disorganized experience that doesn’t really engage anyone’s imagination, a channeler capable of connecting with some kind of Weird Other can build and ride a gravy train for the rest of their lives.
Today we’ll look at 2 examples of channelers who built their own various kinds of cults around their special revelations. These three were chosen mostly because I already am familiar with their work from my time slumming in the self-help and new age world.
But First, What is Channeling?
Channeling is the process of inducing an altered state of consciousness that produces or organizes information in a novel way. It can be explained in many ways, and often each practitioner will frame their specific skill in a somewhat unique way.
I’d like to separate this kind of work done by “counter-cultural” figures in white cultures from the kind of spirit work often practiced by various indigenous cultures, which tend to have substantially more theory, nuance, history, and depth to them. Western anthropology groups such practices under Shamanism and they’re not our subject today.
So we’ve got some white people stumbling into at least unusual psychological depths and potentially gaining information from other kinds of beings.
My biases should be out in front here: I’m basically an animist. I’ve communicated with spirits which we can define as apparently nonphysical intelligences not under my creation or control.
While I think those experiences are both valid and probably reflect actual reality, I’m highly skeptical of others especially within my own culture who claim the same things. Especially when there’s money on the line.
Simply put, it’s way easier to tell stories about such experiences than it is to have them about anything other humans would care about.
During my phase experimenting with high dose psilocybin trips, I was coming down from some kind of vast hyperdimensional space and returning to our usual 4D spacetime and also my own body, a presence that I call a fairy was diving back into simpler spacetime with me for a while and thought/spoke/imagined a kaleidoscope of images, sounds, and feelings that I can only translate as, “YOU live in THAT!?” with subtext of extreme revulsion and disgust at the profane limitations of my physical body and also our whole tiny ass linear universe.
I was only really able to respond for a moment as the sense of falling back into time and space accelerated with something like, “Yeah, it’s small but it’s cozy.”
Now that’s funny but it’s not really a revelation. Earth is cosmic backwater? It’s a cliche. But everything’s a cliche until it happens to you.
So we kinda need an edge to work against when evaluating people. In my young and credulous days, I was looking for a way of evaluating channeled material and came up with a few questions that mostly let me cut through the bullshit:
Is any of this information falsifiable?
Is any of this useful?
Does the channeler not understand their channeled material under normal consciousness?
1 is most often no, even with channelers who are fairly high quality. A scientific mind would simply reject this, and half the reason to include the question at all is to remind me of the option.
But that’s a limited point of view and there’s something to be said for beings existing outside our understanding of reality not having anything like our priorities or understandings.
Like, the idea that any random spirit would even have much in the way of relevant information for humans is kind of a wild assumption. If they’re real, they’ve got their own shit to deal with that doesn’t revolve around our particular reality. Some might be chatty or playful or malicious but that doesn’t really mean they’ve got, say, a big list of answers for all the latest unsolved murders. If they’re not real and are just a psychological projection, they don’t have any information the channeler doesn’t.
2 is, at best, kinda. If nothing else it provides some novel perspective that might be interesting to think about. I’ve yet to find a channeled material worth building a life around but many people disagree with me about that. The fact that they’re cultists might be an issue. ;-)
3 is the real meat here. It’s the question that really matters.
If the person in ordinary consciousness is particularly good at explaining their ideas and if they extend and enhance their themes rather than distracting and muddying the waters, they’re probably not channeling anything outside themselves.
On the other hand, if they’ve written or said something smarter than they are which they’re actively bad at interpreting, then you’ve got yourself an interesting case.
If you’re searching for The Other, finding one with the same values and beliefs as its author is more likely a miss than a hit.
Rushing through our examples
I wanted to go more into detail with these folks, but I’m having a bad back day and typing this laying down so we’re going to have to skimp on the details.
The three people I wanted to discuss here are Aleister Crowley and Esther Hicks
The Book of the Law
Crowley’s probably the most infamous and influential of them so let’s start there.
In April of 1904, Crowley received the three chapters of The Book of the Law over 3 days from a being called Aiwass, who he later identified as his Holy Guardian Angel.
The message can be simplified as: The world is in transitioning into a new world, called the Aeon of Horus and this new world’s only law is, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
Now, it’s probably not possible to unravel all the convolutions of Crowley’s influence and character here but among his occult interests, he was a pretty baller poet and had a serious classical education. Understanding his writing today requires a ton of research outside it and an understanding of his complicated brand of jokes.
While Crowley’ character, which we can most charitably call dubious, would peg him as exactly the guy who’d fake a weird religious text to start a religion and ride that fraud into the damn ground, this is one fraud he never admitted to even in private so far as we can tell.
While “Do as thou wilt” sounds like “do what you want” in context, it means something more like, “Find your highest and best purpose and do nothing else.”
Less than occult libertarianism, Crowley found a vein of something transcendent, and one thing that contradicted several of his beliefs: A male chauvinist when it was written, the book of the law repeatedly asserts gender equality in passages like, “Every man and woman is a star.”
I tend to think he made it up, since he surely rode the religion he created from it (Thelema) as a long con. But it’s still one of his most interesting works and this guy wrote an absolute ton.
But hell, even con artists sometimes cry wolf when there’s an actual wolf around.
The Law of Attraction
Esther Hicks, usually known more by the name of the entity she claims to channel, is a new age standby for the last few decades. Much of the pop spirituality has been influenced by her claims, as the spirit, Abraham (not that one), that thoughts are things and they attract each other like to like.
Where Crowley used automatic writing, Esther is more possessed by Abraham and answers questions at expensive retreats. Though she also has written a slew of books often using transcripts from her talks as part of the work.
Prior to his death, Esther worked closely with her husband Jerry who’d kind of stage-manage the whole performance. A nice two or three-way partnership depending on how you count.
Abraham-hicks has been routinely criticized for a metaphysics that leans on hyper-atomization and victim-blaming to explain how the world works. It may seem strange that a spirit would have self-help that fits so snugly in a neoliberal framework of individualism, but that’s how it goes. ;-)
The biggest criticism, I think, is that her work doesn’t really do what it promises. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s had clear long-term success with her methods.
That said, I do enjoy them as a kind of performance art and on certain subjects like death, she has a refreshing perspective that I felt made things easier to deal with.
OK, so I wanted to include a bit about Neale Donald Walsch here but I quickly realized that I didn’t really remember much of his books and he also wrote a ton more than I’d realized.
Anyway, I’ve got some client work that needs done today so I’m not going to worry about that unless folks demand it. I don’t expect people to clamor for it, lol.
This has been kind of a tangent but it seems like if we’re talking about contacting the Other we had to at least touch on this kind of contact.
The number of people who have made lifelong careers out of this stuff suggests to me that it’s one of the least credible forms of weirdness but that’s middle weirdness for you. It’s all wrapped up in social concerns and institutional growth.
Anyway, we’ll see you tomorrow.