LECTURE 1
The Relevance of Visionary Experience to Culture



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Lecture 1

THE RELEVANCE OF VISIONARY EXPERIENCE TO CULTURE

20th June 2001, St. Thomas' Hospital, London

Copyright © Anne Baring

I know that all of us here today are deeply committed to finding ways of alleviating human suffering. This paper suggests that our culture is incomplete and impoverished if it fails to take account of visionary experience in the ancient and original interpretation of its meaning - that of receiving revelation, inspiration and guidance from a transcendent dimension of consciousness that used to be called spirit…
----- From the first stirrings of conscious awareness, we have sought relationship with the universe. This may be one of our deepest instincts, the root of our desire to explore and to discover. Gazing in wonder at the stars, naming the constellations, charting the rising and setting of the moon, (1) connecting through visionary experience with a divine intelligence which has brought the earth into being, we have created many rituals, many images to engage with the mystery of our existence. 14,000 years ago, in the deep pit of the great cave at Lascaux, someone painted this figure of a shaman whose soul is travelling like the bird on his staff to another world where it will perhaps encounter the soul of the slain bison. In that time, so long ago, it was the shaman (originally a sanscrit word) who transmitted to the tribal group the messages received from an unseen world. Over time these grew into the great myths that guided people on how to align human life with the life of the universe. Later, religions devised the doctrines and rituals that held immense numbers of people in relationship with the transcendent. But at the root of all institutionalised religion is the revelatory experience of the visionary or seer.
----- A living myth arose out of the visionary experience of this man (Christ, as shown in the visionary painting of the Resurrection by Piero della Francesca). The same could be said of the Buddha and Mohammed. I should say here that I am using the word myth not in the sense of something untrue or fabricated but in the sense that the mythologist Joseph Campbell used it - a powerful story that influences and even structures whole cultures.(2) A living myth can hold society together, can transform and advance human consciousness, inspiring the greatest works of art and literature. But a dying myth may lead to the disintegration of society. A myth can only survive if it engages the soul at the deepest level and if it can grow and evolve. If the religion which transmits the myth has become too constricting to the questing human spirit, if something absolutely vital is missing in its teaching, if there is an aspect of its doctrine which deeply injures the soul, the myth will ultimately lose its power or degenerate into fanaticism. At the present time the Christian myth and the Judaeo-Christian image of God which have structured Western civilisation for two thousand years are dying: we are living through an interregnum where the old moral consensus has gone and the old vision no longer guides us. I am reminded of the words "Where there is no vision the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18) Yet revelation may continually be trying to reach us if only we have the ears to hear. The psychiatrist and visionary C.G. Jung wrote this beautiful passage at the end of one of his books, Modern Man in Search of a Soul:

"The living spirit grows and even outgrows its earlier forms of expression; It freely chooses the men [and women] in whom it lives and who proclaim it. This living spirit is eternally renewed and pursues its goal in manifold and inconceivable ways throughout the history of mankind. Measured against it, the names and forms which men have given it mean little enough; they are only the changing leaves and blossoms on the stem of the eternal tree."

-----Many myths of the ancient world and our own Christian myth tell us that after a period of disorientation and confusion, there can be renewal and regeneration. But new bottles may be needed to contain the new wine. Those who create the new bottles are the visionaries or seers who renew the connection with the transcendent in a form attuned to the needs of a different age.
----- The visionary or mystical tradition of different cultures says that like a child separated from its mother, we are separated from an invisible and transcendent ground of being. This separation is experienced by us as an exile, a fall, a state of disharmony and disunion. But the memory of fusion or union lives on in us as a longing for the reconnection of our conscious human self with that unseen ground. We sail the fragile vessel of consciousness on the surface of the great sea of life unaware, perhaps, of this primary need. I feel that all our different quests spring from the basic longing for reconnection - to discover our place in the universe, to know who we are and why we are here, on this amazing planet. The image of the quest breathes life into the great myths of the ancient world and is a quintessential part of the Christian myth. It lies behind science's drive to discover the secret of matter and the current fascination with neuroscience. It is the instigator of the Apollo Mission to the moon and the breathtaking exploration of the depths of cosmic space.
----- I see visionaries as bridge builders between two levels or dimensions of reality - explorers or astronauts of the soul. The visionary or seer who contributes to the regeneration of a culture must always press beyond the boundaries of the known. In this image, a man has gone beyond the known world, and is gazing in wonder at what is being revealed to him. It is a powerful image of breaking through limitations, an image of astonishment and discovery. It is the very essence of the spiritual quest.
----- A visionary, seer or shaman - the word means "one who knows" - is traditionally called to this role by a life experience which weakens his or her focus on the usual concerns of society. It could be an illness, a psychotic episode, an experience of catastrophic loss, a powerful visionary dream, an out-of-the-body or near-death experience. Whatever it is, it will shatter the pattern of so-called normal life and the structures of defence we have built against the terror and disorientation of such an experience. Our culture may see this experience as a symptom of mental illness. Other cultures may see it as a rite of initiation into a transcendent world - a break-through rather than a breakdown. There are many kinds, levels and degrees of visionary experience. Such an experience is an encounter with the numinous and can be overwhelming and terrifying as well as exalting and inspiring. The line separating the visionary, the genius and the psychotic is very fine. All three have a psychic threshold which is permeable to deeper levels of experience, to non-ordinary states of consciousness. A culture may confirm or deny the validity of this kind of experience and it may be the fear and denial of it which may actually drive certain people into psychosis who in other cultures would be confirmed and supported in their calling as a healer and spiritual guide to the community.(3)
-----Jung commented on this situation:

-----"The archetypal image of the wise man, the saviour or redeemer, lies buried and dormant in man's unconscious since the dawn of culture; it is awakened whenever the times are out of joint and a human society is committed to a serious error...These primordial images are numerous, but do not appear in the dreams of individuals or in works of art until they are called into being by the waywardness of the general outlook. When conscious life is characterised by one-sidedness and by a false attitude, they are activated - one might say "instinctively" - and come to light in the dreams of individuals and the visions of artists and seers, thus restoring the psychic equilibrium of the epoch…" (4)

-----What is the visionary experience like? While I could draw on hundreds of examples, I have chosen two, the first from Hildegarde of Bingen:

"In the year 1141 of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, when I was forty-two and seven months old, a burning light coming from heaven poured into my mind. Like a flame which does not burn but rather enkindles. It inflamed my heart and my breast, just as the sun warms something with its rays.…The Light said to me: You who receive these things for the manifestation of the things concealed, write what you see and hear…I had felt within myself the gift of secret mysteries and wondrous visions from the time I was a little girl, certainly from the time I was five years old right up to the present time. I revealed my gift to no-one except to a select few and I concealed my gift continuously in quiet silence until God wished it to be manifest by God's own grace. I truly saw those visions; I did not perceive them in dreams, nor while sleeping, nor in a frenzy, nor with the human eyes or with the external ears of a person, nor in a remote place, but I received them while I was awake and alert with a clear mind, with the innermost eyes and innermost ears of a person, and in open places." (5)

-----It is interesting that Hildegarde says that she was continually ill until she began to write down her visions and to communicate them to close friends and supporters.
----- The second is from a recently published book called Dark Night, Early Dawn by Christopher Bache. Professor Bache taught religious studies at an American University for 20 years and is now Director of Studies at the Noetic Institute in California. During those years he recorded the visions he experienced while using the holotropic breathing method developed by the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof:

-----"The unified field underlying physical existence completely dissolved all boundaries. As I moved deeper into it, all borders fell away, all appearances of division were ultimately illusory. No boundaries between incarnations, between human beings, between species, even between matter and spirit. The world of individuated existence…was revealing itself to be an exquisitely diversified manifestation of a single entity." (6)
-----"Though these experiences were extraordinary in their own right, the most poignant aspect of today's session was not the discovered dimensions of the universe themselves but what my seeing and understanding them meant to the Consciousness I was with. It seemed so pleased to have someone to show Its work to. I felt that it had been waiting for billions of years for embodied consciousness to evolve to the point where we could at long last begin to see, understand and appreciate what had been accomplished. I felt the loneliness of this Intelligence…and I wept for its isolation and in awe of the profound love which had accepted this isolation as part of a larger plan. Behind creation lies a Love of extraordinary proportions, and all of existence is an expression of this love. The intelligence of the universe's design is equally matched by the depth of love that inspired it." (7)

-----The visionary has to adapt the direct experience of a transcendent reality to the level of understanding of his time and also struggle to integrate it with his own understanding. He or she is really a kind of translator. Jung was a visionary but it took him forty years to integrate the visions which began when he was 35 with his life work as a psychiatrist and healer of souls. In the prologue to his autobiography he says: "In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak chiefly of inner experiences, among which I include my dreams and visions…They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallised." (8)
----- Jung found it ironical that he, a psychiatrist, should encounter at almost every step of his opening to the imperishable world the same psychic material which is typical of psychosis. "This," he says, "is the fund of unconscious images which fatally confuse the mental patient. But it is also the matrix of a mythopoeic imagination which has vanished from our rational age." (9)
----- Why has it vanished? The definition of a visionary prior to 1650 was one who was able and accustomed to see visions. By 1750 when the belief that the physical universe was the only "real" one was becoming established in philosophical and scientific circles, the definition has changed to someone who sees something which is not real. Today a visionary may be defined as someone who suffers from delusions or hallucinations, who is at worst psychotic, at best emotionally unstable. So why the change in perception?
----- To answer this question, I need to go back a bit to give an overview of visionary experience in the past. In the ancient world the whole of nature was infused with divine presence. Mountains, trees, rivers, springs each had their own particular spirit or guardian. In dreams and waking visions people could walk and talk with gods and goddesses and with angels and daemons who were seen as emissaries and agents of divine spirit. They were looked upon as being as real as you or I. The Old Testament as well as the Iliad and the Odyssey are full of these encounters. (see the Books of Esdras and Tobit in the Apocrypha and the Book of Revelation). There was a different kind of consciousness to the one we have today, one that might be called 'participatory' rather than 'rational'.
----- In pre-Christian cultures (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece), there was a long tradition of visionary healers who were initiated through rites of incubation in temples and caves and who brought back teaching from another world. (10) Far into the Christian era there were contemplatives who sought out the solitude of forest and desert. People went to them for spiritual counsel. The emphasis of this contemplative tradition was on a gradual initiation through meditative practice into the capacity to see, hear and understand things which are not accessible to the normal range of consciousness. The visionary imagination was nourished and cultivated in those cultures where visionaries were regarded with awe and respect as messengers of the invisible.
----- In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Europe there was a flowering of the visionary imagination in the building of the great cathedrals, in the wide dissemination of the Grail legends and the troubadours who introduced a new image of romantic love between men and women into the culture. All over Europe the Black Madonna drew people in pilgrimage to shrines and holy places that had once been sacred to older goddesses. This was the time when Dante, with Beatrice as his spiritual guide, wrote his Divine Comedy after seeing a vision of the Trinity, when St. Francis heard the voice of Christ speaking to him from a crucifix in a tiny hermitage in Assisi, telling him to rebuild His church, when Hildegarde of Bingen was experiencing her visions.
----- However, certain events put an end to this flowering: the Black Death in the fourteenth century, the long terror of the Inquisition (13th-19th centuries), which effectively silenced visionaries, particularly women visionaries, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Protestant Reformation. This last coincided with the beginnings of the scientific revolution in the sixteenth century. People became disenchanted with religion because of the intransigence of the Church towards the new discoveries and the fanaticism of rival religious groups. 400 years ago there was a fundamental shift of focus from religion to science, a shift of focus from faith to knowledge, from confinement within a rigid and persecuting orthodoxy to a passionate exploration of the physical universe and the significance of the individual.
----- Tragically, because of its later effects on Western civilization, the Christian Church gradually eradicated the earlier awareness of the sacredness of the earth and of nature and the immanence of the Divine. This was due, I think, to three things: its fear of animism, its emphasis on the transcendence of God and its doctrine of the Fall of Man and Original Sin. It also persecuted and eliminated the gnostic visionary tradition which had flourished in Christian communities during the first three centuries of our era. Many gospels in use at that time were burned. So, in European culture, many different events and beliefs contributed to the suppression and eventual loss of the visionary imagination.
----- But the last fifty years have seen the recovery of the gnostic texts buried at Nag Hammadi in Egypt (particularly the gospel of Thomas) and the visionary traditions secretly transmitted from pre-Christian and early Christian cultures. For the first time these lost texts and traditions are accessible to all who are interested. What have also been recovered over this same period are the mystical and healing traditions of India, Persia, China and Tibet and the work of the great spiritual teachers of these ancient cultures. These teachings and traditions can be seen as the "complementary" or missing counterpart of the traditions that are more familiar to us and are an essential yet hitherto unknown aspect of our spiritual inheritance. Included in this precious inheritance are shamanic traditions of healing; travelling to other dimensions of reality; encountering and speaking to the souls of the dead. All these have enriched our culture and have broadened both our understanding and our definition of spirituality. Spirituality is no longer associated with the belief system of a specific religion but rather with the longing, the quest, to become awakened, healed and whole.
----- However, I believe there is a major problem facing us: during the last century in our Western culture, the human spirit has been increasingly compressed between two ideologies - the older Christian one which can no longer hold society together in a shared vision and the new one of reductionist science which states that we live in a mechanistic, lifeless universe which has come into being by chance. By a subtle yet powerful censorship this new ideology excludes what it defines as non-rational from our understanding of life. It regards consciousness and visionary experience as the by-product of the physical brain. It does not accept that there is a dimension of reality transcendent to the visible world. There can be no survival of consciousness after death because the death of the brain is the extinction of consciousness. In this belief system God is an unnecessary hypothesis and the concept of the soul an irrelevance. The word mystic or visionary has become a term of contempt and abuse - signifying irrationality and instability. This belief system negates the whole past experience of humanity and sets the rational mind against the instinctive need for relationship with the unseen dimension of life. I feel that neither the totalitarian cast of this ideology nor its subversive effect on our culture have been sufficiently recognised and challenged. Religion has become, over time, a defence against revelatory experience; so too has this dogmatic belief system in science.
----- Having lost the participatory consciousness and visionary imagination of earlier times, we now see stars as objects instead of divine beings; angels, stones and trees no longer speak to us and we do not stand in awe before the great mysteries which surround us. The arrogant and dissociated human mind stands supreme over and against nature. Cut off from its deepest instincts, its longing for relationship and connection, the human heart is lonely and afraid and the neglected territory of the soul a barren wasteland. It could be said that like this alarming image of the Cyclops (Odilon Redon) we are a one-eyed culture which has lost the visionary eye, the eye of the imagination. (A friend of mine has defined the visionary imagination both as a faculty - the reaching out of the human soul towards God, and as a place - the place where the soul encounters the Divine). (11) I feel that our culture is incomplete and impoverished because this vital aspect of the total range of our human experience has been ignored and denied validity. The visionary imagination is a supremely important faculty of our nature, just as our capacity to feel and our rational intellect are vital faculties of our nature. It is not an unfortunate aberration or an illness.
----- In the Christian Church, although there were great Christian mystics, the voice of the soul - the voice of feeling and instinct - was repressed, at times regarded as demonic. Nature and body were split off from spirit, viewed as contaminated by the sin of the Fall. This is what I was referring to at the beginning of this talk when I said that something absolutely vital was missing in Christian theology and that the soul had been deeply injured by it. In scientific reductionism the voice of the soul is still repressed but here, conversely, it is the dimension of spirit that has been rejected. Both belief systems appear to have set up a phobic defence against what they have rejected and a compulsive need for control. Why is there this tendency in us to seek total control? Is it a defence against the non-rational, against what is still beyond our comprehension? Or is it perhaps a symptom of an unconscious fear of death, a defence against losing control of our life? We establish a belief system and promote the system as infallible, saying in effect "thou shalt have no other gods before Me."
-----What follows is a very personal view, and I do not put it forward without many years of study and reflection, but I feel that both belief systems have contributed to an imbalance in the psyche of individuals and therefore to an imbalance in the culture as a whole. As many of you know, what is split off and repressed can take on a driving, persecuting, even demonic character. (12) Until the missing element is reinstated and integrated with consciousness, things may become increasingly out of balance. Perhaps this is the root of the increasing addiction to drugs, sex and violence in our society, the obsession with power and control, and the drive for omnipotence reflected in the Star Wars Project and other military experiments where the earth itself is used as a weapon of war. (13) Each of these might be seen as a compensation to the experience of catastrophic loss - the loss of something essential to our balance and wholeness.
----- How in this culture can people discover the rich and ancient treasury of visionary experience or risk sharing their own unusual experiences with others without the fear of being called irrational or classified as mentally ill? How can they discover that they may not necessarily be suffering from mental illness if they hear the voice of God speaking to them? How can they learn to distinguish between a genuine voice and the deceptive voice of an unconscious complex or perhaps a discarnate entity? Can we exclude the possibility that there may be a vast storage system of the collective memories of humanity which can influence and even intrude on the psyche of the individual who is particularly fragile or sensitive, or that the souls of the dead may affect and influence the living? (14) Does psychiatric or psychotherapeutic training teach students to affirm the validity of the visionary experience, thereby pre-empting the need to enter a full-blown psychotic state? Does theology offer its students the insights of the visionary tradition of all cultures? I know of only one place in this country which offers an MA course on Mysticism (Kent University).
----- Until very recently there was no hope for the insane. Madness was looked upon as something that could not be cured. Suffering was an inescapable part of human experience and had to be endured. Until very recently it was also thought that madness, like disease, was something that was inflicted by God as a punishment for sin and for that reason there was a negative projection onto the afflicted which led to their being treated with great cruelty. (15) The neuro-physiological discoveries which have been applied to the treatment of psychoses have gone far to alleviate this appalling state of suffering. But the very fine line between visionary experience and psychosis has become increasingly blurred as the idea developed that visionary experience is hallucinatory or delusional rather than a genuine opening to the transcendent. Because visionary experience is now generally identified with mental illness, in the same way that formerly it might have been identified with demonic possession, it is very difficult for people not to be frightened of voices and images that seem to come from a transpersonal dimension. The unconscious can indeed overwhelm and fragment consciousness, yet this experience may be the psyche's attempt to enlarge the boundaries of our normal experience, an attempt to open our awareness to the existence of something currently beyond our knowledge and our comprehension. In this sense visionaries may be conduits to a deeper level of reality to which the culture as a whole has no access.
----- Because visionary experience has generally been subsumed under the heading of psychosis and because there is no familiarity with the long tradition of this non-ordinary kind of experience, neither the individual who has the experience nor the family, psychiatrist or priest to whom he/she turns for help and counsel may have any frame of reference other than that of mental illness with which to evaluate it. Any method of treatment - whether with drugs or psychotherapy - which can help us to contain and integrate the experience so that the psyche does not fragment into a long-term psychotic state, is of great value. But if we identify visionary experience with mental illness, or insist that it is only a product of the brain's neuro-physiology, we deprive the individual of access to its deeper significance and meaning. Such a person may find herself unbearably alone, cut off from society, with a deep sense of shame, terrified of the experience itself and terrified that she may be diagnosed as insane if she tells anyone of her experience. The stress suffered may lead to severe depression or to a paranoid state where she feels persecuted and threatened and this may in fact act as a trigger for psychosis. A sensitive response to this situation could, I am sure, prevent many psychoses but such an approach needs time, patience, professional insight and a supportive environment. (16)
-----Interesting confirmation of the fact that many people have experiences which they dare not speak of came into my hands last week. This was a recent report of the Alister Hardy Research Centre in Oxford which has been gathering material for the last thirty years about people's spiritual experiences in this country. This shows that "more than half the adult population of Britain believe they have had a transcendent or spiritual experience such as awareness of a supernatural or paranormal presence or power, a meaningful patterning of events, extra-sensory perception, a feeling of guidance or answer to prayer.…People are often reluctant to talk about these experiences, fearing to be thought odd or psychotic…The Centre's findings show links between spiritual/religious experience and personal wholeness and appear to overturn the widespread stereotype which has created the taboo on admitting these experiences." (17) That taboo goes back, I believe, not only to the fear of insanity but to the memory of the time when to speak of such things was to risk being accused of possession by the devil and to invite either incarceration in an asylum or torture and death at the stake.
----- So, to sum up, I feel that in our spiritually impoverished culture deep human needs are denied so that the questing human spirit which instinctively seeks relationship with the universe falters. The visionary imagination as a vitally important connecting faculty of the soul cannot flourish. People are ill in spirit as well as in body. There is no deep and sacred relationship with life, no sense that the life of the individual has meaning and value beyond achieving a position of power and influence in society. With this limited horizon is it surprising that so many people are depressed? The artist Cecil Collins, who painted this picture and who trusted his visionary imagination in the face of contempt and neglect by the art establishment, wrote these words: "My works are a visual music of the kingdoms of the imagination. There is in all human beings a secret, personal life, untouched, protected - won from communal life; and of which all public life is the enemy. It is this sensitive life which my art is created to feed and sustain, this real life deep in each person." (18) What is there in our culture that could nourish and sustain this secret life, particularly the imaginative life of a sensitive child? If we insist that there is nothing beyond this visible world, if we ridicule mystics as deluded people, and fail to transmit to our children the work of the great visionary artists, poets and seers, what can give them the awareness that there is something beyond the concerns of this material world that awaits their attention? The recent exhibition of the works of William Blake at the Tate (spring 2001) is perhaps a sign that things may be changing. If he had lived today, he would undoubtedly have been classified as insane and given drugs to bring his visions under control or get rid of them altogether.
----- What is missing and has been repressed for a long time in Western culture is the connective principle of soul. It is this feminine principle that carries our deepest longings, our deepest instincts. It is, in essence, the root of the visionary imagination. It is this special faculty of the imagination that seeks relationship with the invisible, that can connect us with the unseen face of spirit. Like the thread of Ariadne, it can guide us through the bewildering labyrinth of life. We know that if we are deprived of sleep for too long we become disoriented. Perhaps it is the same if we are deprived of the visionary imagination.
----- We live today in an extraordinarily challenging time when we face greater dangers but also greater opportunities than we have in the whole course of our evolution on this planet. Many people realise that this century will be the ultimate test of our survival as a species. Not since the beginning of the Christian era has there been such a powerful impulse for transformation. One could say that what is taking place beneath the surface concerns of our culture is a spiritual awakening on a planetary scale. This awakening is beginning to heal the great split in the Christian psyche between spirit and nature and the dissociation between thinking and feeling that lies at the core of scientific reductionism. It is being led by men and women who are bringing into being a new paradigm of reality and a spirituality arising from the need for direct connection with a transcendent dimension, a spirituality which recognises and honours the interconnectedness, indivisibility and utter sacredness of life. Their vision is creating a powerful alchemy in the culture, slowly transforming our understanding from lead into gold. (19)

1. The earliest lunar notations date to 40,000 BC. See Alexander Marschack, The Roots of Civilization. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1972
2. Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, Doubleday, New York, 1988.
3. see Malidoma Patrice Somé's book, Of Water and the Spirit for a description of a modern shamanic initiation in Africa. Penguin Arkana 1994. See also John Weir Perry for his three-fold distinction between the potential visionary or seer, the person whose psyche is attempting to integrate a hitherto repressed or atrophied aspect of itself and the person with true schizophrenia. Trials of the Visionary Mind: Spiritual Emergency and the Renewal Process, Chapter 3. State University of New York Press, Albany, 1999.
4. C. G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 197. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1933.
5. Introduction to Hildegarde of Bingen's Scivias, translation by Bruce Hozeski, Bear & Co, Santa Fe, 1986.
6. Christopher Bache, Dark Night, Early Dawn, State University of New York Press, 2000, p. 74
7. p. 70
8. C.G. Jung, Prologue to Memories Dreams, Reflections p. 18
9. p. 181
10. see Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom for his description of the Greek philosopher Parmenides's shamanic journey in the 6th century BC. Duckworth & Co. Ltd, UK. September 2001.
11. Belinda Hunt, An Exploration of the Hoopoe (Upupa Epops) as a Mystic Symbol. Prologue to MA thesis, University of Kent.
12. see Donald Kalsched, The Inner World of Trauma, Routledge, 1996, for a brilliant study of the persecuting aspect of the archetype of the Self.
13. see Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War, The Women's Press Ltd., London, 2000.
14. See Dark Night, Early Dawn for a description of the memory (morphic) fields which lie beyond the horizon of our consciousness. See below for some of the dangers of the visionary experience (not included in this talk for lack of time).
15. see Gregory Zilboorg, A History of Medical Psychology, Norton, New York, 1941.
16. see John Weir Perry M.D., Trials of the Visionary Mind: Spiritual Emergency and the Renewal Process. State University of New York Press, Albany, 1999. Also Healing the Split: Integrating Spirit Into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill. by John E. Nelson M.D., State University of New York Press, 1994.
17. From "Religious Experience and Spirituality today" The Alister Hardy Trust, 42 High Street, Watlington, Oxford, OX49 5PY.
18. from the Catalogue of Cecil Collins' Exhibition, Bloomsbury Gallery, 1935.
19. see Diarmuid ó Murchu, Reclaiming Spirituality, Gateway, Dublin 1997.

There is no better introduction to the visionary experience than William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience published by Longmans, Green and Co. London, New York 1929 and Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism, Image Books (Doubleday) New York, 1990.

The dangers of the visionary experience:
(I was unable, for want of time, to include this section in the talk)

The danger of too fragile a container. The conscious personality cannot assimilate the numinous impact of the transpersonal experience and takes the visions or messages literally instead of allowing time to assimilate and reflect on them - a process which may take many years.
The danger of grandiosity and inflation - the cult leader - the recent catastrophes of mass suicides (Order of the Solar Temple). Seeing oneself as the messenger of God in pathological acts of vengeance, terrorism and human sacrifice.
The danger of paranoid projections onto others and acting upon them. The need to question the "voices" which urge one to acts of destruction or self-destruction rather than obeying them implicitly as the voice of God. It is important to know that these voices may come from a dissociated unconscious complex which can, with help, be integrated with the conscious personality to the great benefit of a person's life.
The danger of nervous exhaustion, depression and suicide. Depression is often the dark companion of the visionary experience, particularly if the latter is not validated and supported by the culture or by friends, relatives and therapists and there is no access to guidance from others who are familiar with this kind of experience.
The danger of neglecting or persecuting the body in the belief that self-mortification is a requirement of the spiritual life. Withdrawing from commitment to life in this world and from relationships with other people.

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