Monday 5 July 2021

Colin Wilson and Consciousness

 I am currently reading Gary Lachman's biography of Colin Wilson and although I'm only about two thirds of the way through I'm impressed by the combination of meticulous research and keen insight that Mr Lachman displays. As indeed he does in all the books of his that I've read which are his biographies of Rudolf Steiner and Madame Blavatsky and one called The Secret Teachers of the Western World about Western esotericism which I did a post on for Albion Awakening a few years ago. I would say his books are always worth reading.

But for me there's a problem and that's Colin Wilson himself. Like us all he was a product of his time and his was a time of deep materialism so to achieve anything of a spiritual nature outside of orthodox religion would always be a challenge. We are somewhat better off in that respect now because, although this is still a time of deep materialism, there has been so much published, unearthed and discussed on the metaphysical, supernatural and spiritual over the last 50 plus years that we have an abundance of riches to draw upon. Some of it is by Colin Wilson himself. That having been said, and a debt to him acknowledged, I would have to add that I still find something of the outsider (pun intended) looking in about Colin Wilson's approach to the spiritual.

I first came across him in the early 1980s when I read The Occult and Mysteries which are really two compendiums of occult and mystical history. They show Wilson's prodigious reading and also his ability to synthesise his research and incorporate it into his own ideas about life and the mind. There is a wealth of fascinating facts and characters in these two books and they are written in Wilson's typical highly readable style which nonetheless shows no concessions to populism. I enjoyed them very much at the time but for me they also read like the work of someone who was in many ways a materialist but who sought to acquire the benefits of the spiritual without actually going all the way to embracing a full spirituality.

The focus on consciousness and how it might evolve is key to what I mean here. I don't know if Colin Wilson believed in God but if he did God did not appear to play a very big part in his thought, certainly not the central part as should be the case. This has long been a problem amongst many of those interested in the esoteric, the occult and the mystical. They want the fruits of the spiritual and the supernatural but they want them on their own terms. They are quite prepared to work, even work hard, to get these fruits but they are less prepared to open their hearts up fully to the reality of God. They are very interested in the expansion of consciousness and higher states of being but they see these in the context of the human (even if that is superhuman) rather than the context of God.

John Fitzgerald wrote a piece about Colin Wilson for Albion Awakening which he also included in the book he and I put together from that blog. I have just reread it and it comes to more or less the same conclusion that I have though John is more charitable than me in that he thinks Wilson might have been deflected from a more spiritual path because of the poor reception given to his book Religion and the Rebel which John thinks, and I agree, is one of his best. But, while appreciating that, I have to say that if you really believe something it shouldn't matter what the critics say. He was still young at the time and should have found his way back to a more genuinely spiritual path though I am not that widely read in Wilson's oeuvre so I don't know whether he did or not. But that is not the impression I get.

Wilson's great value is that he opened up the possibility of evolution in a psychological/spiritual sense in a serious way and on a popular level. Yes, he was a populariser but he was much more than just that and I certainly do not wish to limit him by that description.However, I do get the impression that he was more of a writer and a talker than someone willing to really engage with the reality of religion at a deep level. As far as I can see, he never took that extra step from spiritual outsider to proper believer who accepts the truth of God and who sees himself in the light of God rather than God in the light of himself.

This was a problem with many people at that time who rejected materialism and is a problem now too. Such people saw the work to be done to escape the drab robot self of everyday existence as involving the evolution of consciousness meaning by that a deepening and intensifying awareness of the self. That is true enough but they tended to stop there with the result that none of them really made the jump to a true spirituality. I include people like Jung and Gurdjieff in this category. The human being undoubtedly has higher aspects to his being into which we should be evolving. We have moved from instinctual consciousness to a more self-centred and rational (up to a point) consciousness. Higher states of consciousness are there to be discovered. But the fact remains that these can only be truly and fully known when we give ourselves over to God. A human-centred spirituality which seems to be the path Colin Wilson followed will get us so far but no further.


Bruce Charlton said...

I agree with your evaluation of CW; and of Gary Lachman - at least up to the publication of Lachman's dreadful anti-Trump/ pro-Leftist book Dark Star Rising. Unfortunately, this was successful (*because* it was bad in such a way) and this acclaim has apparently distorted Lachman's judgment and activities. Things coming to a point, as usual...

Interestingly, CW became convinced of the reality of life after death in the later years of his life; which (it seems to me) ought to have led to further questions about the nature of this life, why it should exist, and how post-mortal life can and should affect understanding of mortal life...

But it seems not to have done so. Wilson seems to have regarded Afterlife (the name of a book) as just another 'fact' to be acknowledged, on a level with poltergeists or psychometry. I do get the impression that Wilson developed bad habits - e.g. writing too much and too fast, not thinking hard enough, focusing too much on broad social - rather than potential individual - change, spending too much (leading to writing too much) etc.

For me, Wilson was an important influence; but one whose insights were very partial and who therefore did not lead anywhere really useful (and I really did try as hard as I knew to live by Wilson's ideals, more than once in my adult life, and starting from age 19).

Thus, except for Religion and the Rebel, he does not make it onto my Romantic Christianity 'reading list' and I would regard him as on a qualitatively lower level of importance than - say - Barfield or Arkle. As you say, as a thinker he is best considered supplementary or partial - somewhat like Jung, John Michell, Geoffrey Ashe...

William Wildblood said...

Yes, he's one of many possibly too intellectually polarised people who go a long way but are finally unable to rid themselves of their anti-religious prejudices and acknowledge the reality of God.