Along with Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil, Timothy Leary was part of what has been called “the Harvard Psychedelic Club.” (Lattin) Fired from his position at Harvard University, Leary is perhaps best known as being one of the most vocal advocates of lysergic acid diethylamide (better known as LSD-25), an extremely powerful hallucinogenic drug which Leary et al helped to popularize during the revolutionary sixties. He was part of the Harvard Psilocybin Project, which Leary organized following a trip to Mexico during which he was administered psilocybin mushrooms. He later recalled of this experience that he had
“learned more about…[his] brain and its possibilities…[and] more about psychology in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than…in the preceding fifteen years of studying and doing research in psychology.” (Alpert)
The Harvard Psilocybin Project went on to conduct the famous Concord Prison Experiment, which evaluated whether psilocybin paired with psychotherapy could successfully rehabilitate repeat offenders, and the Marsh Chapel Experiment, which sought to discover if psilocybin could reliably induce entheogenic experiences in religiously predisposed theology students. In 1963, Leary helped initiate the Millbrook Experiment, an enormous mansion located in New York where residents spent their days experimenting with psychedelic drugs and living according to the teachings of Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff. (Hollingshead) Gurdjieff we’ll return to later. These experiments, impressive as they may be, are not the good doctor’s sole claims to fame, however. During one of his many incarcerations, in 1972, Dr. Leary developed a new model of the evolution of life on earth – and of individual human consciousness – which he called the ‘Eight Brain’ or ‘Eight Circuit’ model.
Popularized by Discordian Pope Robert Anton Wilson, Leary’s Eight Circuit model postulates that all life on earth (and indeed in the entire cosmos) evolves through a series of eight successive ‘circuits.’ This same eight-fold process, Leary adds, is recapitulated in the development of consciousness within an individual human being. Just as the human embryo at various times manifests as unicellular, possessed of gills, having a tail, etc., so too does individual conscious unfold through the same successive stages of evolution. Divided into Terrestrial and Post-Terrestrial, the eight circuits unfold as follows:
1. The Bio-Survival (Marine Consciousness) Circuit
2. The Emotion-Locomotion Terrestrial-Mammalian (Territorial Consciousness) Circuit
3. The Symbolic-Artifactual (Laryngeal-Muscular Consciousness)
4. The Industrial (Socio-Sexual Consciousness) Circuit
5. The Cyber-Somatic (Body Consciousness) Circuit
6. The Cyber-Electronic (Brain Consciousness) Circuit
7. The Cyber-Genetic (DNA Consciousness) Circuit
8. The Cyber-Atomic (Quantum Consciousness) Circuit (Leary, 1987, p. 12)
Without entering into too much detail regarding the function of these ‘brains,’ it is sufficient to say that each of the eight ‘circuits’ are further divided into three successive stages (thus giving us twenty-four) of what Leary calls “con-telligence.” Con–telligence is defined as “the reception (consciousness), integration, and transmission of energy signals.” (Leary, 1987, p. 18) The three stages of con–telligence applied to each of the unfolding circuits then constitute the twenty-four phases of the awareness, mastery, and communication-fusion of each new evolutionary technology, from spineless, floating amoeboid (as well as newborn infant) to meta-physiological nano-technician at the “violet hole” found at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. (Leary, 2015, pp. 106, 339) The people who represent these various stages of evolution Leary refers to as castes. (Leary, 2015, p. 66)
In an attempt to “relate the psychology of the ancient, pre-scientific world with modern notions of stages, phases,” (Leary, 1987, p. 148) Leary was wont to apply his twenty-four stages of evolution to the major arcana of the Tarot, wherein he saw a clear reflection of his own model. For example, to illustrate the three-stage ‘con-telligence’ of Circuit I, Leary employed The Fool, The Magician, and The Empress cards. In illustration of the con-telligence of Circuit II, he used The High Priestess, The Emperor, and the Hierophant, etc. However, there’s just one problem. The major acrana is possessed of only twenty-two cards, leading Leary, to the horror of every Tarot purist in the world, to invent two brand new major arcana cards: Starmaker and Violet Whole. (Leary, 2015, pp. 320, 339) As hip and groovy as these two additions no doubt are, they may not have been necessary. Had Leary paid closer attention to his Gurdjieff while residing at Millbrook, he might have thought to apply the sequence of Tarot cards to Gurdjieff’s Law of Octaves.
According to the Law of Octaves, everything in the universe that happens or can happen manifests according to a fixed set of cyclic vibrations, called octaves. From the initial impulse to the completion of a given thing constitutes an octave; that is, from do (start) to do (finish) in the musical scale do re mi fa sol la ti do constitutes a given octave. Whether it is the birth and death of a galaxy or the beginning and end of an acid trip, taken as a unit each of these phenomena would constitute its own octave. Considered in the key of C major (which Gurdjieff obviously intends), it becomes evident that a given octave is possessed not only of eight steps, but also of two intervals. For, every note in the C major scale is followed by a sharp, save two: mi and ti. Unlike the other six tones, mi and ti, rather than being followed by semitones, move directly into the following whole notes. (Ouspensky, pp. 122-130) To compensate for these ‘intervals,’ in order to complete a given octave, Gurdjieff says that two additional shocks are required.
“In an ascending octave the first ‘interval’ comes between mi and fa. If corresponding additional energy enters at this point the octave will develop without hindrance to [ti], but between [ti] and do it needs a much stronger ‘additional shock’ for its right development than between mi and fa, because the vibrations of the octave at this point are of a considerably higher pitch and to overcome a check in the development of the octave a greater intensity is needed.” (Ouspensky, p. 131)
It is our understanding that an ‘additional shock’ in an ascending (evolutionary) octave may be constituted by anything from a physical or emotional trauma, a mental break with mundane reality, an initiation, ritual working, or rite of passage, and especially by a psychedelic experience.
Possessed of eight steps and two ‘intervals,’ Gurdjieff’s Law of Octaves neatly solves the problem of what Leary saw as two ‘missing cards.’ If we allot the cards of the major arcana in sets of three to Leary’s eight ‘circuits’ while keeping true to Gurdjieff’s Law of Octaves, we arrive at the arrangement below. Let the numbers represent those attributed to the major arcana cards. Let the Xs represent Gurdjieff’s ‘additional shocks.’
I. 0 – 1 – 2 (do)
II. 3 – 4 – 5 (re)
III. 6 – 7 – X (mi)
IV. 8 – 9 – 10 (fa)
V. 11 – 12 – 13 (sol)
VI. 14 – 15 – 16 (la)
VII. 17 – 18 – X (ti)
VIII. 19 – 20 – 21 (do)
As the reader may observe, these ‘shocks’ fall into the ‘transmission’ (per his theory of ‘con-telligence’) slots of Leary’s third (Symbolic-Artifactual) and seventh (Cyber-Genetic) circuits, precisely in the places where the ‘additional shocks’ are necessitated per Gurdjieff’s Law of Octaves. No invention of cards required. The suggestion here is that ‘additional shocks’ bridge the transmission gaps between a) the integration phase of the Symbolic-Artifactual Circuit and the reception phase of the Industrial Circuit and b) the integration phase of the Cyber-Genetic Circuit and the reception phase of the Cyber-Atomic Circuit, providing the individual and the species with the momentum necessary to break the barriers between one evolutionary circuit and the next.
In the Tarot, these ‘shocks’ appear between a) The Chariot and Strength and b) The Moon and The Sun cards. In the system popularized by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, The Chariot corresponds to the zodiac sign Cancer. Strength, on the other hand, corresponds to Leo. Conveniently, as Cancer is ruled by the moon and Leo is ruled by the sun, combined with the second ‘additional shock’ which occurs between The Moon and The Sun Cards, we see that both the shocks take place at ‘intervals’ between symbolic diametrical moon-sun Alchemical opposites. These ‘shocks,’ then, both practically and symbolically, serve the same ‘bridging’ function of Mercury as mediator. Coincidence? Maybe. Granted we may be guilty of ‘confusing the planes’ by comparing the zodiacal attributions of one pair of cards to the titles of another. However, one cannot deny the symmetrical neatness of the arrangement.
For this arrangement to work it goes without saying that all the cards and explanations following The Chariot in Leary’s model must be rearranged and reworked to accommodate for Gurdjieff’s ‘shocks.’ After all, in Info-Psychology, his 1987 revision of Exo-Psychology, the good doctor Leary kindly invited the reader “to engage in an ‘interactive co-writing’ of these important issues.” (Leary, 1987, p. 152) In any event, at the very least, we’ve arrived at what would appear to be a new method of Tarot analysis. The notion that hidden ‘additional shocks’ appear in the major arcana sequence between cards 7 and 8 and between cards 18 and 19 is, to our knowledge, wholly novel. But, does this innovation mean that two of Leary’s castes must be sacrificed in favor these ‘shocks?’ Or, is the implication that two of Leary’s castes are the shocks? Further analysis is required. One thing we can say with assurance, and that along with Leary’s friend Dr. Israel Regardie, is that “posterity…will have a finer appreciation of what [Dr. Timothy Leary] has contributed to the world than we have today.” (Leary, 1987, p. ii)
Alpert, William. Ram Dass: Fierce Grace. Zeitgeist Films, New York. 2003
Hollingshead, Michael. “The Man Who Turned on the World.” The Psychedelic Library. http://www.psychedelic-library.org/hollings.htm. Accessed Jan. 9, 2017
Lattin, Don. The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America. HarperOne, San Francisco. 2011
Leary, Timothy. Info-Psychology: A Manual on the Use of the Human Nervous System According to the Instructions of the Manufacturers. New Falcon Publications, Las Vegas. 1987
Leary, Timothy. The Game of Life. New Falcon Publications, Las Vegas. 2015
Ouspensky, P.D. In Search of the Miraculous: The Teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff. Harcourt, Inc., New York. 2001
Wilson, Robert Anton. Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati. Hilaritas Press, LLC., Grand Junction, CO. 2016
Wilson, Robert Anton. Prometheus Rising. Hilaritas Press, LLC., Grand Junction, CO. 2016