This is a long article, but I decided not to pare it down, lest the orientation and thrust of this site and the Fool's Journey itself be watered down, misunderstood or even lost. So even though it's long for an internet page, it ties a lot of things together you might need a bit farther down the road.
To begin then ...
There is a limit to spiritual development when all spiritual sources are made external, whether those sources are within traditional religions or are any of the New Age avatars so much in vogue today. This limit represents a plateau of advancement, in both genres, beyond which no further personal development is possible, unless those very sources are abandoned as outside authorities—whether these are personalized or not—and in their place inner, first-hand spiritual experiences are sought, for no amount of second-hand lecturing, cajoling or forcing has ever produced illumination, enlightenment or anything of the kind. It is true that this plateau is comforting; if it were not it would never have attracted all the millions that have and still do reside there. But it is a false summit of limited attainment.
To understand the nature of this plateau, its inhabitants may be characterized as worshippers or followers of one or more external deities. The names of these deities vary, of course. The traditional religions have only one deity apiece, while New Agers may have several at the same time. They are each placed “on high” in one way or another, as distinct from themselves, who are always “lower.” Hence the image of a plateau of separation; they are separate from the deities they worship or follow. This is not accidental, but is part of a design. The very idea that they themselves might be deities-in-waiting is either unknown to them, or else seemingly impossible, or is “blasphemous,” a word that connotes a certain imperialism on the part of religious leaders. The plateau-dwellers stand at the feet of their deity, master, etc. but may not approach closer, at least not in this life. But woe to those who don’t remain and continue to stand at attention, for their fate will be dire, as we have all heard about over and over from childhood.
It may be shocking to most religious adherents, especially the fundamentalists and literalists, that they should all be grouped together after so many centuries of being told they must be enemies just because their own “deity” said so. It is equally shocking to the New Agers that they should be grouped with the very religionists they rejected for whatever reasons. It has been said that at the core, all religions and spiritual paths lead to the same place, but the knowledge, practice and experience of this is relatively unknown, since the leaders in the various hierarchies are more interested in job security than getting this news out. Much is taught and well-known in the seminaries that never gets passed along to the congregations. Most people on the plateau seem to be fine with this. Of course, what you don’t know, can’t help you.
It is pertinent to ask why this sterile plateau has been so crowded, first by the adherents of the major monotheistic religions of the West (Christians, Jews and Muslims, primarily), and then when their numbers began to decline during the last century, the New Agers began taking their places from the 1980s up to the present? What’s so popular about it?
What's so popular about this plateau?
The answer is that knowledge of individual spiritual transcendence was suppressed in the West starting about seventeen hundred years ago. A gap was purposely created between deity and follower which was filled by the officials of the Roman Church. All that was left for people was to look up into the distance, as it were, at who they were told was their God. The result of this was not all bad, though, by any means. Charity and comfort have been given selflessly by untold numbers, whether religious adherents or New Age Lightworkers, however these latter define themselves. Without their compassionate actions, life would be immeasurably worse than it is. The moral force of their actions has been equally important, although this latter is not without problems. Wars often result from misplaced moral force. The real issue is, however, there is so much more than this that is possible.
It is comforting to believe there is one (or possibly more than one) superior or supreme being “up there” somewhere who cares for us, protects us and watches over us. Moreover, it’s usual for us Westerners in the modern world to hold this belief. Being down here in the dirt, as it were, we need something better and higher to exist, for if it doesn’t, we have no hope of escaping this world, even if only after death. We have a heritage of thousands of years of belief in such a God, under various names, so the belief itself is familiar, whether we individually hold it or not.
The existence of a supreme being isn’t the question. The existence of a Creator greater than ourselves is self-evident, once we discard the ridiculous idea that the greater can spring spontaneously from the lesser, which is one of a whole spate of incorrect ideas put forward to attempt to explain the mess we’re in. Where did these ideas come from? The modern West is a wholly materialistic and secular world, politicians on the stump attempting to curry the fundamentalists’ favor notwithstanding. The primary forces in the modern world are economic and corporate, where there can be no spiritual beliefs of any consequence by definition. Even the debates between the creationists and the evolutionists regarding the contents of school textbooks have been Shanghaied by these same corporate forces which decide what everyone entering the workforce has to know, and what is immaterial. (The debate on this issue has itself been Shanghaied, in that there seem to be only two sides. It occurs to few that there are other interpretations different from the two usual ones that make the news.) Modern society, via official pronouncements from “science,” has almost completely abandoned belief in our transcendent origins, and has substituted counterfeit ideas that the world somehow came into being by happenstance and gravity; that life originated by serendipitous, chemical mutations with a little lightening thrown in; that consciousness is a mere epi-phenomenon of brain matter; that man somehow “evolved” from animals; that spiritual things are either sublimated issues of the sex drive or echoes and eruptions from a theoretical collective unconscious that is located somewhere “down there” in our brain cells—all with unconvincing proofs that have been refuted over and over, without apparent effect. How the lesser, the simpler and the lower can create the higher and the more complex, no matter how much time is allotted, has never been explained, because there can be no acceptable explanation; it just isn’t true. Nonetheless, we take this all for granted without asking questions. “Well, Jimmy, it’s true because nearly everybody important says it’s true.” Swell. Not even Alice could believe so many impossible things before breakfast. There is a Creator who goes on creating whether we believe in him/her/it or not. (This does not imply that the creation myths in Genesis should be taken literally though. There are hundreds of other creation stories from past and present cultures around the world which aren’t meant literally either.) There are things greater than ourselves from which we are created; it cannot be otherwise.
But whether the Creator has the qualities and attributes we suppose is another question. Bertrand Russell described faith as “a conviction that cannot be shaken by contradictory evidence.” One of the primary arguments of those against the existence of the usually-described God is this: If he exists and cares about us, why doesn’t he prevent all the horrors we commit against each other? Why doesn’t he protect us against natural disasters? Birth defects? Injustice? It’s a long list. The atheists (materialists, scientists, Darwinists and others) conclude that therefore God doesn’t exist. Many of these people are in positions of authority, so we tend to believe them. They are experts, after all, employed by us to explain the world and ourselves. But cogent arguments based on specious assumptions aren’t valid. Any argument, however seemingly plausible, that excludes a Creator and beings greater than ourselves is specious, and therefore invalid or incomplete. This covers pretty much everything we believe about ourselves and the world. Faith in our beliefs orders our world, but limits and separates us from what is higher. Faith or belief without direct experience, is brainwashing, or at best false hope. It is mere opinion. Direct experience of what is higher, by contrast, is knowing. But if everything is affected by higher beings, how can we be sure of anything unless we have direct experience of these higher beings? Such experience doesn’t mean listening to a sermon or attending a weekend workshop. It doesn’t mean reading a religious or inspirational book. It means actual, inner contact with high spiritual beings. Distinct from faith or belief, personal spiritual experiences are the only valid means to obtain accurate knowledge of anything, since the Creator, again by definition, has a hand in everything. This is the only way we can know that a Creator greater than ourselves exists. It is also the only way we can begin to know its nature. Those who have experienced it know that the Creator doesn’t have the attributes we usually ascribe to him/her/it.
Which leaves an apparent void.
Is there no one, then, to look out for us? Is there no one, say, in heaven, who will protect us, despite the fact that we will often not look after and protect each other? Oh, sure, if they’re family. But how about others: Those of other religions? Of other ideologies? Other ethnic groups? Even today we wage wars in the name of my god versus your god. Never mind that no god has ever shown up to smite for his side against the baddies. We humans do all the smiting.
There is a clue here about the problem of a religious plateau, above which none upon it can rise. If there is no God on high as many imagine him, who or what else might be candidates to fill this void the major monotheistic religions have left us with? Let’s see if the New Agers have an answer.
A New Age answer?
Most New Age adherents (although any generalizations here are precarious, since their beliefs are so varied) reject the idea that God and his avatars only appeared or existed in the remote past. For them, Spirit is immanent in the world, though unseen, under many names besides the generic “God.” Aspects of Spirit are acknowledged to also exist at many different levels, from flower and garden divas to the Mother Goddess, restored to prominence for many, after long centuries of harsh Christian suppression. So far, so good.
But what places many New Agers on the same plateau is exactly the same thing that places the religious adherents there: the belief in external spiritual authority figures “over” themselves. It is exactly this belief that creates the plateau and limits the possibilities of those on it. These figures include Ashtar, Sananda (a reconfigured and modernized Jesus), Hilarion, St. Germain and many others. These beings are real in some sense because they feel real. As channeled entities they are wiser in definite ways than are the people channeling them, at least in their normal state of consciousness (speaking from direct knowledge).
But who are these beings? Are they really who they say they are? Ashtar usually describes himself (albeit through the biases and non-conscious influences of the channeler) as the “commander” of a fleet of “spaceships” hovering above the Earth dispensing good wishes and the promise that should the faithful “lightworkers” get in trouble, or should catastrophic Earth changes occur, these lightworkers will all be beamed up. Many people believe this and continue to receive such “transmissions,” which have been going on for twenty years in their current form.
The detractors of such ideas—who have no personal experience of these phenomena, only opinions—may be ignored for that reason. The fact remains that Ashtar and the others are something real. Whether they are as they advertise themselves via scores of channelers is another question.
Ashtar has a definite military feeling; it’s that title “commander.” But there is something disconcerting about him and the other so-called ‘ascended masters” that is more subtle and more insidious. They are “up there” somewhere and we are down here and there is seldom any effort on their parts to help us get “up there” with them, other than their beam-me-up-Scotty reassurances. Their primary message to us is smile and be nice to everybody. As voiced by most channels, they do not say, “Here is what you must each do to ascend so you can join us. Here is the work and the path to us.” They are not an action army. Instead they present the current situation as one where they know what is going on in all the dimensions and tell us lowly, limited humans what they think we can understand, leaving much unsaid or only hinted at so that we will stay tuned. This seems fine with many if not most New Agers, because it is comforting and gives hope. People do stay tuned to find out what’s going to happen in the next episode. (Nothing has so far, though.)
The danger of the plateau can now be seen clearly from both sides. Neither the religious officials nor most of the New Age gurus or “masters,” human or otherwise, have any interest in teaching individual spiritual enlightenment or advancement. Perhaps this is because some of them are not as advanced as they claim and don’t know how to teach this. On the other hand, perhaps there are too few of us who are willing to undertake the task. For whatever reason, they preach to us from “on high” (again, whether human or otherwise) about times past, about moral behavior in the present, or about the coming good times in some other dimension. The parallels between traditional religions and New Age ideas are striking. It’s worth examining these parallels in some detail to understand what is being left out—what strands so many on the same plateau.
The goal of the early Catholic Church Fathers was to co-opt all religious authority—and therefore all secular authority as well—by controlling all access to and knowledge of any true, individual spiritual experience. Access to God—or any god or goddess—was the sole province of the Church, which these “Fathers” pursued with a vengeance for seventeen hundred years. Only the Church hierarchy could speak to and for God, and only they could intercede with God on behalf of any man, which they used to maximum advantage when it was time to create kings, blackmail the nobility across Europe, keep the common folk abysmally ignorant, and prosecute the Crusades and the Inquisition. The dark, bloody result is still with us today: to effectively talk to God you still need a priest, a minister or a rabbi. Many Christians believe it is not okay to pray unless a suitable religious official is present.
Adherents of these beliefs are, therefore, stranded on our plateau: they are bereft of any knowledge of or skills to access their own inner spirituality; in fact, many do not even feel they have permission to. The religious officials in question—a religious Mafia of sorts—turn Jesus’ parable upside down: It is better to give people fish rather than teaching them how to fish, for then the officials would all be out of their jobs, a point not lost on many of them. Note well here, however, that just because those in the religious hierarchies have lost the knowledge and will to teach the path to spiritual transcendence does not mean that this path is inaccessible. It only means that the path must be sought from a different starting place.
The spiritual gap
The situation is the same for the New Agers. For the most part they are content to listen to their own gurus speak essentially the same message, albeit with different terminology, and these New Age leaders with few exceptions do not attempt to teach others how to access these spiritual beings themselves, much less how to become one. They would lose their jobs, income and positions of influence just as surely as would the priests and ministers. If this is hard to see, consider what ongoing spiritual union means: Self-healing, since the Creator is not ill nor injured. Unlimited knowing, since the Creator is unlimited. Comfort and ease, since the Creator is effortless peace. Unconditioned and unconditional love, since the Creator is also these things. Instead, a spiritual gap is created, via belief, between one’s self and one’s spiritual source. This supposed gap strands us on a plateau of limitation where the idea of such a union is inconceivable.
The question of who will look out for us, who will protect us, can now be answered. Walt Kelly gave it in his comic strip Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We must develop ourselves inwardly to fill this role, because there isn’t anybody else. If God, Jesus, Ashtar or any of the rest were meant to protect us they would have been doing so all along. We were meant to look out for ourselves, but have lost the ability to do so, even the knowledge that we can. The reason there seems to be a spiritual void is because we are not filling it. The idea that we are separate from God has been the most catastrophic idea in all of recorded history. Those who have been able to access bits and pieces of the power that comes with spiritual connection all too often used it for their own personal gains, not ever realizing there has always been enough for everybody. Fear of death and privation constantly won out and they grabbed all the power, goods and control they could at the expense of those who had completely lost their own connection. It was never expedient to teach others how to regain this connection for they always believed this would leave themselves with less, or that the tables would quickly be turned against them. After all, they took just because they could. Why would they let anyone else do the same to them? No, we cannot be trusted to look after each other; the only solution is to learn how to access the strength within us, which is identical to, if we only could experience it, the strength of all Creation. Then we can look after ourselves.
All this fear and greed is still going on today. The benefits Spirit bestows do not have a moral limit. Spirit just is; its benefits are available for anyone who can access them. No wonder that no one in power who knew this wanted to share the knowledge. The whole ideas of original sin, of human unworthiness, of others handling all God’s phone calls for us—the whole dumbing down of the human race—have been excuses for those in power to remain there. What we don’t know can’t hurt them.
The true terror and tragedy of the plateau is to be part way to “heaven” via one’s beliefs, but to be incapable of ever getting any closer because of those same beliefs. On that flat, barren plateau, high above the rest of the world, the voices of the winds of reassurance swirl in every direction, giving what comfort they can, but the truth is it is a purgatory; there is no possibility of ever getting higher.
This situation was planned long ago. Beginning effectively with the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century C.E. a hierarchy of human spiritual interlopers was imposed on Europe which eventually spread the new Roman religion across the entire Western world. No longer were people taught spiritual transformation; the very idea that such a thing was even possible was covered up, so that all hope of salvation, redemption and deliverance was funneled through the Catholic hierarchy and later also the officials of the Protestant sects. Within a short time, very few of these men (of course they were all men) knew what real spiritual transformation was, nor, as a consequence, did the general populace, which was kept very much in the dark (which is one reason these times were called the Dark Ages). The very few who did know, even inside Catholicism itself, went underground or masked their activities to avoid the Inquisitors and other nasties. There they have remained to the present day, hidden, but, fortunately, not quite forgotten.
What sustains the popularity of the plateau are the partial truths given to those who reside there. High moral standards, the love of Jesus and Sananda, good works, kindness and compassion. These count for a lot and undoubtedly have bettered humankind. Indeed, without the positive influences of Christianity the state of the world might be far worse than it is today. But in and of themselves these truths are not enough, because the knowledge and tools for individual transformation are not present. These things come only from personal links to higher beings, which is the one thing not offered to those on the plateau. Only the appropriate “officials” claim to have such links, and the beliefs are always so arranged that one often cannot know whether these claims are genuine or bogus.
It is helpful, while on the subject of the limits of Christianity, to ask why these limits to personal spiritual development exist? This is to ask where within Christianity may be found anything that transcends them? René Guénon asks in The Crisis of the Modern World,
Where are to be found, even in Catholicism, the men who know the deeper meaning of the doctrine that they profess outwardly, and who, not content with “believing” in a more or less superficial way—and more through sentiment than intelligence—really “know” the truth of the tradition they hold to be theirs? [We] have to admit that, up to the present, we have not encountered any: is one to suppose that they live in hiding, like certain Eastern sages, in some almost inaccessible retreat, or must this last hope be definitely abandoned? (p. 95-6)
Postponing for the moment where such deeper meanings might be found, we can first conclude the examination of the nature of the plateau by observing that there is always a strong emotional content that draws people onto it. Guilt and fear have been used from the beginning. The Catholic church taught (and still does) that you will go to Hell if you’re not baptized and do not remain a faithful Catholic. (Note that all non-Catholics automatically go there.) In addition, everyone is guilty of a supposed “original sin,” as they promulgate it, and only the Church can keep you out of Hell and send you to Heaven, their choice. Every religion is an in-group which has one or more out-groups which it hates, fears or pities. Muslims versus unbelievers or infidels; Jews versus Gentiles; Protestants versus Catholics. Once in-groups are formed, fear has many flavors, which pits each group against the others.
The emotional pressures and draws, though, are not all negative. Great joy can come from the inner peace evoked in some churches. A sense of community is offered to congregations that is valuable, especially where secular communities have become harder to find or penetrate. Even the music can be deeply moving. There may be faint feelings of, even yearnings for, union with something ineffable. And yet there is no invitation from the “officials,” and certainly no path laid out, toward the consummation of this union, for knowledge of such a path has been long lost within the churches. The same may be said of the New Age community, which despite protestations to the contrary, has strong Christian foundations, and therefore suffers many of the same limitations.
Where, then, may such knowledge be found? The short answer is, outside the exoteric churches and beyond New Age “feel good” sensibilities. In the West there are a few remnants of this knowledge, but much of it still in coded languages that were necessary during the times of overt Christian suppression. Alchemy is one area, but there are few today who can decode all its secrets. Many important threads exist in the Arthurian, Grail and Troubadour material, but much disentangling is needed to get to the central knowledge. The Sufis are said to hold most of the keys to this knowledge (and may have done so for thousands of years in a nearly unbroken chain that predated and extended beyond the reach of Rome into the Orient). Finally, there is the Tarot, of which more will be said elsewhere.
Looking to the East
Following the idea that one might look to the East for some answers, much can be found openly. The terminology found there is different, for example in Hinduism and authentic Tantra (which is not what most people imagine), but it is not unduly difficult to understand. Many have written accurately on Yoga and Tantra for Westerners, among them Julius Evola, Sir John Woodroffe and Swami Satyananda Saraswati (whose Kundalini Tantra is highly recommended). However, we can turn to Guénon again to quickly get at the heart of the matter. Two related observations will make the issue of the limitations of the plateau clearer.
The first remark comes from his Symbols of Sacred Science where he discusses the parallels among Hindu, Celtic and Christian traditions. He says,
[W]here real initiation is concerned, its degrees correspond to so many states of the being, and it is these states which, in all traditions, are described as so many different worlds [The] heavens are properly speaking “spiritual hierarchies,” that is, degrees of initiation... (p. 76)
Again in the Crisis of the Modern World,
[All] true knowledge essentially consists in identification with its object. (p. 38)
A little orientation may be in order here. First, “initiation” is a technical term in many ancient traditions, that is used in the specific sense of certain personal, spiritual accomplishments, that are usually guided by a teacher (physically embodied or not) who has the ability to safely lead an aspirant through them. Next is the idea that the reality we perceive is a function of our conscious state, which is the real meaning of the Hindu term maya. This word does not mean “illusion” as commonly thought in many New Age circles. Rather, it is that which filters a many-layered external reality into our conscious awareness; it is not that external reality is an illusion, but instead it is the percipient who changes his/her level of awareness in order to experience different levels of it. Thus, the idea of different “dimensions,” “realms,” or “worlds.” It is not the case that we are “down here,” eternally (or until death) and “God” and the rest of the spiritual hierarchies are “up there” out of reach. Instead, it is possible, albeit difficult in the modern age, to so transform ourselves that we may bring these different levels into full consciousness; each higher degree of initiation into these mysteries brings us into a higher level of awareness and being. Reality, then, depends on the level of consciousness from which it is experienced. Spiritual hierarchies are levels and modes of awareness; initiation is achieving these levels. This is how we develop spiritually and become masters ourselves. Jesus said, “All these things I have done, you shall do, and more.”
The plateau dwellers fulfill the passive roles designed for them. Words like “rapture” or “ascension” are passive, and depend on the largesse of unseen and largely unknown deities or helpers. Compare these words with a phrase like “make an ascent,” where personal action is explicitly meant.
In Guénon’s second quote we can see one type of action that might be required. To fully identify with Jesus, say, is to become like him, which means to experience reality on the same level he does. Of course, this is job-security heresy to orthodox Christian leaders, but one must press them for answers. It is not enough to merely listen to Ashtar or Sananda or to read Jesus’ words. One must demand to know how to find a path of ascent to them and how to embark upon it. If satisfactory answers are not given, then such a path must be sought elsewhere. Few seek such a path, although many are called to it in different ways.
But few is not none.
A journey of initiation is required, and clear maps of such a journey are again available. Beginning is a big step, for hardly any on the plateau are even aware that such a journey is possible, nor even that such a goal exists. To begin the journey means coming down off the plateau and beginning a new ascent from a different starting point. The reward, though, is that there is no limit to the heights one can attain.