Revolutionaries of the Soul

soulIn western societies, the canon is the greatest ally to social conditioning and nation-building. Schools and media echo it with great alacrity. There are even prizes, ranging from local to international (and very prestigious, as well as remunerative), assigned to sundry representatives of the canon. The significance of such prizes is twofold: further to establish and divulge the canon, and to enroll clever minds in its service. The resulting world is deceptively varied but in fact univocal. Most of us are led to believe that that’s all there is and, often, believe it we do. Then, one day, some of us stumble on something that seems completely extra-canonical. We either dismiss it as sheer nonsense or, to our surprise, we are attracted to it—and the doors of a whole new world are swung open.

Gary Lachman’s Revolutionaries of the Soul: Reflections on Magicians, Philosophers, and Occultists is just the sort of book that those of you who have overdosed on the platitudes so incessantly dished out by the canon-enforcers will enjoy reading.

In the Introduction, Mr. Lachman speaks with candor about his becoming a writer, offering, en passant, valuable advice for aspiring writers. Looking back at two decades in which he has authored sixteen books and a myriad reviews, articles and essays, he finds two recurring leitmotivs: “human consciousness and its evolution,” and “that mysterious world that seems to strangely parallel our familiar, everyday one (…).” Such themes reverberate throughout the collection of essays of which the book is comprised.

I used to maintain that a single, cohesive work would be cogitationally more powerful than a collection of disparate writings; Revolutionaries of the Soul, along with Joscelyn Godwin’s The Golden Thread, which is similarly structured, has sown doubts. For example, an opera in the Italian tradition of bel canto is a unified work, but what the audience really looks forward to are its arias, at which the work will eventually culminate, and from which it will depart. There is plenty of time for the composer to work his way toward the culmination of the arias, whose melodies, incidentally, are often milked to death through variation after variation. Giuseppe Verdi was at master at this. A collection of songs, on the other hand, doesn’t have the luxury of time through which to develop and climax. Each song is a microcosm onto itself; each song must “deliver” within a very few minutes. Likewise, the sixteen essays comprising the florilegium of Revolutionaries of the Soul achieve the impossible: to present the reader with as many thinkers, whose ideas are, invariably, extremely original and who have led an extremely vibrant life, and then comment on both, as well as on the import their ideas have had and still have on us. Some of them, though not exactly part of the canon, are somewhat known: Emanuel Swedenborg, Rudolf Steiner, Aleister Crowley, Carl Gustav Jung and Colin Wilson. Others, although their work has remained significant and in many cases revolutionary, are unknown to most: Jean Gerber, for example, or Manly Palmer Hall, or Julius Evola. Speaking of the latter: owing to my knowledge of Italian, I, along with the cited scholar Joscelyn Godwin, who also knows Italian, have read most of his writings in the original. An immensely erudite man of extreme (and extremely dangerous) persuasions, I would have thought that the depth and breadth of his enormous output could not be captured within a few pages. I stand corrected: Mr. Lachman nails it, by painting a rather accurate portrait of “the forbidden philosopher,” a.k.a. “the bad teacher,” and his ideas. That Evola would be directly responsible for the Bologna massacre of August 2, 1980, in which eighty-five people were killed and more than two hundred wounded, is an inference; however, given the fact that ultra-right extremists considered him their teacher and read his books avidly, it is logically warranted.

As with many of the thinkers surveyed in the book, their ideas, theories and convictions must often be taken cum grano salis, as they routinely tend to be extreme. Having said that, Christ’s ideas were extreme, and so were Marx’s.

Neoplatonism, which arose in the third century AD, has the distinction of having explored a very eclectic pool of ideas, some of which, to our eyes, belong in the realm of magic. If Mr. Lachman were to write a follow-up to this book focused on eccentric and extreme minds from antiquity, he would include all Neoplatonist philosophers. Iamblichus (circa c. 245 – c. 325 AD) was one such philosopher; he developed the ideas of his predecessor Plotinus and arrived at a synthesis of all previous schools of thought. His Exhortation to Philosophy was for centuries deemed a fulfillment of the platonic genius. In it, he expounded a Pythagorean exhortation to a life of philosophy, weaving Platonic, Aristotelian, stoic, and an abundance of magical elements together in a telos toward a spiritual ascension aimed at reuniting the soul to its source. Mr. Lachman’s Revolutionaries of the Soul, by being an Exhortation to Philosophy for the post-modern world, fully recaptures the spirit of this illustrious antecedent.

Guido Mina di Sospiro is co-author of the disinformation® book The Forbidden Book, co-authored with Joscelyn Godwin, and The Metaphysics Of Ping-Pong, published by Yellow Jersey Press, Random House, and long-listed for the William Hill Sports Book Award.
Guido Mina di Sospiro

Guido Mina di Sospiro

Guido Mina di Sospiro is an award-winning, internationally published novelist born in Argentina but raised in Italy who lives in the United States.

Mina di Sospiro’s novel The Story of Yew (the memoirs of an age-old tree), published in the UK, is permanently featured on the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and has been translated into many languages, as has From the River, the memoirs of a mighty river. Both books have met with critical acclaim. He is the co-author of the disinformation® book The Forbidden Book, co-authored with Joscelyn Godwin, and Publishers Weekly’s recent staff pick The Metaphysics Of Ping-Pong, published by Quest Books.
Guido Mina di Sospiro
  • Osmiah Jones

    Just wondering, what is considered to be ‘the canon’, can you give me a list?

    • http://www.guido-mina-di-sospiro.com/ Guido Mina di Sospiro
    • Earthstar

      Think of all the books in a typical school library. There is your western cannon. It’s all you are expected to read and know, complete in thought, materialist, and without much variance.

      • Osmiah Jones

        My apologies Earthstar, I’d diasgree that it’s ‘all you are expected to read and know.’ Most students seem to want to only read the basics of what is required and quite a lot of teachers push for students to read outside the basics.
        I think our problem lies in the inherent rebellion of anything deemed ‘authoritative’ and confusing authoritative with authoritarian. There are so many educational variances these days I can’t say we could agree what all the books in a typical school library would include.

        • http://www.guido-mina-di-sospiro.com/ Guido Mina di Sospiro

          The sixteen thinkers portrayed in Mr. Lachman book are all extra-canonical. There are other brilliant minds who have remained outside the canon. You may wish to start with the book reviewed here if you feel so inspired.

          • Osmiah Jones

            Thank you Guido. I looked at your link, which seems to include some excellent examples of what should be in any canon- Shakespeare, Dante, Dostoevsky, Kafka and Borges. I have to disagree with your opening sentence in the article, though, as I’d hardly consider studying them an ally to social conditioning and nation-building. And I’m familiar with Steiner, Crowley, Jung and Wilson (I love Wilson’s work), but will consider the book and the other authors mentioned.

          • http://www.guido-mina-di-sospiro.com/ Guido Mina di Sospiro

            Dear Osmiah, I don’t think you have quite grasped what is meant by “canon.” The Catholic Church, for example, just because the same word is employed, has had for centuries the Corpus Juris Canonici (Body of Canon Law). Secular societies behave similarly, though the canon is unofficial. Of course there is social conditioning: the Aristotetelian / Euclidean / Cartesian / Newtonian / Darwinian Weltanschauung is taught in every school and reverberated by the media incessantly. But the fact that you are pondering this suggests that you may be ready for some unusual ideas. You can start with Mr. Lachman’s book, or the other one I mention, by Professor Godwin. There is a lot of extra-canonical worth exploring.

          • Osmiah Jones

            Dear Guido, my apologies but I think I have been unclear in what I was trying to communicate, and you have misinterpreted my position. I think you are castigating ‘the canon’ without giving it fair due. The example of the canon that you gave me included works from writers of differing nations, in differing times, and styles, not symbolic of a single Weltenschauung or ontology. And I might assume that we may have different perspectives on schooling if you are based in the USA, as I am in Australia. And to be honest, after stating that “I’m familiar with Steiner, Crowley, Jung and Wilson” your comment of “the fact that you are pondering this suggests that you may be ready for some unusual ideas” comes off more than a little patronising.

          • http://www.guido-mina-di-sospiro.com/ Guido Mina di Sospiro

            You are familair with Steiner, Crowley, Jung and Wilson, you claim. Good for you. There’s a lot more, though, and a lot more besides. Hence my inference is warranted. I’ve done my job as a popularizer. Happy trails.