Pop Culture and Esotericism: An interview for Conscious TV

I'm very happy that Greg Taylor has invited me to contribute a blog to the Daily Grail, one of the best sites for esoteric news that I know of, and to start off I'm posting a link to a recent interview I did here in London for Conscious TV. Although the name Conscious TV may sound like an oxymoron, don't let that fool you. I was very pleased that Iain McNay, the interviewer, gave me the opportunity to talk about my life and experiences, both as a writer and as a musician. I was also glad that we had a chance to talk about a few other things as well. It may seem a bit of a jump to go from playing rock and roll in an underground but soon to be fairly successful band, to discussing the importance of C.G. Jung's life and ideas, but as I mention in the interview, my interest in Jung, Steiner, Ouspensky and the other thinkers I've written about, began around the same time as I started playing music. In many ways it's not surprising that there remains a link between some kinds of popular culture and esoteric or occult ideas: both in different ways occupy a kind of penumbra around the central body of 'mainstream' cultural life. In that no man's land, that fringe of slightly 'dangerous' ideas, odd combinations occur, and links are made between cultural forms that might otherwise never meet. I recently had an opportunity to recognize this again, when Nicola Black, a filmmaker in Glasgow, invited me to be interviewed for a documentary about the avant garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger. I've always been a fan of Anger's work, and wrote about it in my book Turn Off Your Mind. I had also written a long essay on it for the British Film Institute's box set of his Magick Lantern Cycle, released last year, and later hosted a showing of his film Rabbit Moon at London's National Film Theatre. Anger's films, like the Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Invocation of My Demon Brother, and Lucifer Rising, are good examples of how otherwise disparate themes and ideas, stemming from occultism and pop culture, can come together to create a unique atmosphere that partakes of both, but somehow transcends them to arrive at something new.

The main occasion for the interview, though, was the publication of my latest book, Jung the Mystic, subtitled "The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung's Life and Teachings." Much, of course, has been written about Jung, and I wouldn't be surprised if some readers ask if yet another book about him is necessary. Indeed, after Deirdre Bair's monumental and exhaustive biography, to tell Jung's life story again does seem redundant. But what struck me about much of the writing about Jung - and the reason I wrote the book - was how his life-long interest - obsession, even - with what we would call the paranormal, the occult, and the esoteric, was either skimmed over, applauded uncritically, or used as a stick to beat him with. In one sense, that writers come to such antithetical positions about Jung's involvement with the occult makes sense, as Jung himself was, for most of his life, of two minds about it. One, the public Jung, the persona of the no-nonsense Herr Doctor that he showed the world, was adamant that he was first and foremost a scientist. But practically from the start, in his personal life Jung was smack in the middle of the strange, ambiguous world of the paranormal that most scientists - these days at least - avoid like the proverbial plague. This has led to some confusion, with some died-in-wool Jungians chucking out the occult ideas in order to save the science, and other equally Jungian apologists eschewing the science in order to celebrate the esoteric parts. As I have no argument with either science or the occult, and have been reading Jung since the early 70s, I decided it would be a good idea to sort this mess out. Two themes then run through my book. One is to look at Jung's esoteric ideas sympathetically but critically, and to articulate the similarities between them and those of other thinkers, like Rudolf Steiner, Gurdjieff, and Swedenborg, all of whom I have written about. The other is to understand Jung's ambivalence about the occult. Was it sheer professional prudence that made him play his cards close to his chest, or was something else behind it? After all, Jung was making a name for himself at a time when the kind of narrow-minded, reductionist 'scientistic' thinking dominant today was gaining ground. Again, Jung is a good example of that odd meeting ground between esoteric ideas and popular culture, because, for all his insistence that he was a scientist, it was with a popular,lay audience that he gained his greatest following. The 'hard-headed' scientific community might not have accepted him, but by the middle of that 'mystic decade', the 1960s, Jung was celebrated by some of the most famous people in the world, like the Beatles - his face, remember, is among the crowd of 'people we like' on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band.

In any case, I hope visitors to the Daily Grail get something out of the interview. All the best and here's the link:


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red pill junkie's picture
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12 April 2007
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1 hour 23 min

A very enjoyable interview. It further fuels my suspicions that the true "pop stars" (the ones that rise to stardom on their own accord, rather than being corporate machinations) are some sort of functional mystics, tapping into some sort of ethereal energy in order to pursue their intents —unfortunately, nowadays the extents of their intents usually limits itself to the acquiring of material wealth...

PS: So, any paranormal experiences during your mystical searching you'd care to share with us? ;)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie

Greg's picture
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1 hour 40 min
Gary Lachman wrote:

I'm very happy that Greg Taylor has invited me to contribute a blog to the Daily Grail, one of the best sites for esoteric news that I know of, and to start off I'm posting a link to a recent interview I did here in London for Conscious TV.

Hi Gary,

Have to say I think we got the better end of the deal - absolutely wonderful to have such a deep and honest thinker on these topics blogging here at The Daily Grail. Looking forward to reading your future entries, which I'm sure will provoke plenty of intelligent discussion amongst readers.

Kind regards,
You monkeys only think you're running things

Henry Baum's picture
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11 March 2010
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3 years 45 weeks

This is great. Been waiting for the punk rock mystic. Not that Blondie's exactly punk rock, but in the same general ballpark. And punk's built on so much nihilism. As much as I love a writer like Robert Anton Wilson, he comes out of the hippie tradition, which, personally, is not my tradition. Anyone know of other mystically-inclined punkers/new wavers/indie rockers out there?

Grail-seeker's picture
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25 November 2004
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How about Rat Scabies in Rennes le Chateau research mode?



Grail-seeker's picture
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25 November 2004
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41 weeks 5 days

And how could I forget Andrew Collins, who was involved in the early UK punk scene, forming his own band 'The Disease' and hanging out with the likes of Shane McGowan.



Sancho23's picture
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24 April 2008
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That was a good interview. Since I haven't spent any time at all looking deeply into Gurdjieff, it was nice to hear a few things about his practices that I wasn't aware of at all.

I'm curious to know what Gary's more personal thoughts are on Steiner's path of self-initiation. From my encounter with it so far, it seems quite removed in many ways from the rest of the Western esoteric tradition. Certainly has little to nothing in common with Crowleyan work!

In Steiner's Outline of Occult Science, the first few chapters really lay out a dense description, based upon Steiner's claims of initiation knowledge, of the panorama of the essence of man from the point of death unto a new birth, as well as the complicated structure of man's Self in the time between birth and death- the knowledge of various subtle bodies. It then goes into the self-initiatory path (that is more deeply laid out in his book, Knowledge of Higher Worlds) which opens almost immediately with the direct statement that esoteric knowledge must no longer remain the possession of a few, but now must be made available to all. Afterward he goes into a most unusual description of the evolution of the cosmos and our own species- first as spirit and then only more recently as physical being. He cops a lot from the Theosophists, but there is so much more there that is not found often elsewhere. Very strange this man was, and I can't help but only continue asking the question, "Was Rudolf Steiner right?"

While Steiner seems to be quite consistent in his own logic, I have heard very little from people who actually are treading the self-initiatory pathwork laid out in his work. I'm really curious to know what experience Gary has had while working with Steinerian stuff.

No matter what positives and negatives one might have about Anthroposophy and the like, the overall impression I've so far gained from it is that it is an immensely beautiful way of viewing reality and our place in it. If this man was right, even in a general aspect, then it might be true that reality is stranger than fiction.

Morning prayer used in his "esoteric school" where the student was asked to contemplate these seven lines entirely for a few minutes each day immediately upon waking(as found in the book, Guidance in Esoteric Training):

In purest outpoured Light
Shimmers the Godhead of the world.
In purest Love toward all that lives
Outpours the god-hood of my soul.
I rest within the Godhead of the world;
There shall I find myself,
Within the Godhead of the world.

Gary Lachman's picture
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7 September 2010
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49 weeks 11 hours

Many thanks for the warm welcome and encouraging comments. I'm happy that you all got something out of the interview and took the trouble to let me and others know about it. Regarding punk esotericists, I was going to mention Rat Scabies' search for the Holy Grail - I've only heard about it myself, and don't know if he found it or not - and, although he's not really 'punk' (and then again neither am/was I), Julian Cope has done a lot of work on megaliths, earth mysteries, and other John Michel oriented studies. And of course, the Police called one of their albums Synchronicity. So although a great deal of popular esotericism certainly emerged during the 60s generation, the link between pop culture and esotericism carried on in the next decade as well, as it does to the present day. Again, this isn't surprising, as the occult (for want of a better name) has had a 'grass roots' appeal and support since the beginning of the modern age, which I place in the early 1600s, with the collapse of the Rosicrucian dream, in the face of the increasing power of science, as well as the persecution by the church. As I argue in Politics and the Occult and also in The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus (which will be published next year) he subsequent retreat of the occult sciences to the 'underground' marks the beginning of the 'counterculture'. Of course we associate that term with the 60s, but the 60s occult revival - which fueled much of the counterculture - is only the most recent expression of a kind of 'return of the repressed', the earlier Hermetic view seeping through the cracks of the 'official' zeitgeist, as it were.

As for my experiences with Rudolf Steiner's ideas, I talk about this in the beginning of my book on Steiner (Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work).Briefly, I had been practising some of the meditative exercises Steiner writes about in his book Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment, which are aimed at grasping and strengthening the active, vital character of consciousness. The standard view of consciousness is that it is a kind of mirror, reflecting the world outside; it is essentially passive. Steiner disagreed with this view, which has been accepted since Descartes, and instead argued that consciousness is an activity, not a mere passive reflection of the world, but an active process participating in it. Steiner goes so far as to argue that our consciousness actually shapes the world we see. He writes that "the content of reality is only the reflection of the content of our minds" and that we are not here "in order to form for ourselves a picture of the finished world; we ourselves cooperate in bringing the world into existence." Steiner developed different ways of experiencing the active, even creative character of consciousness, as did other thinkers, and whenever I had the chance or remembered it, I tried to develop a sense of this in myself. One day, while taking a walk, I found myself looking at a rose. Some of Steiner's remarks came to me, as well as something the poet Rilke once said, about how a particularly relaxed state he found himself in was like the 'interior of a rose'. While I stood there looking at the rose and remembering this, I suddenly felt that my consciousness wasn't reflecting the rose, but was somehow 'holding' it, cradling it, as it were. It was as if my consciousness was a hand and was gently touching the petals. I could feel a slight but definite tactile sense, a kind of inner pressure. It was very different from how I 'normally' experience my consciousness, and I have experienced it again, several times, since then. So, while I am not an anthroposphist, and take argument with some of Steiner's ideas - as is clear in the book - I certainly agree with him that the passive view of consciousness is incorrect and that is important for us to learn how to experience our consciousness as active and creative. In my book A Secret History of Consciousness I relate Steiner's ideas to other thinkers who also see consciousness as active, like Colin Wilson, who talks about the 'intentionality' of consciousness.
Cheers for now.

Gary Lachman