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Jim Hendrix (Johnny Allen Hendrix, 1942-1970) was a legendary rock guitarist and songwriter whose innovative, haunting, and almost voodoo-like technique has influenced music and musicians to this day, to include the classical violinist Nigel Kennedy.
Hendrix’s song lyrics often point to a kind of gnosticism – “Have you ever been experienced? Well I am.” He also sings about his psychiatric diagnosis: “Manic Depression’s a frustrating mess.”
Although his work touches on mysticism, it seems to be influenced by heavy drugs and arguably not a form of mysticism that leads to a healthy spiritual life.
For decades it’s been rumored that Hendrix put LSD tabs underneath his headband while performing live. So drug-filled perspiration from his forehead would apparently flow down into his eyes to be absorbed there into his bloodstream, almost like a time-release mechanism that kept him high. (Another version of this urban legend is that he cut his forehead before putting the LSD tab on top of the wound, and then covered it with a headband.)
Hendrix died in 1970, probably due to an unintentional overdose of sleeping pills, taken after a night of partying. He was only 27 years old, an age which seems to have an uncanny and tragic significance in rock music.
His career and death grouped him with Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Brian Jones as one of the 27 Club, a group including iconic 1960s rock stars who suffered drug-related deaths at the age of 27 within a two year period, leaving legacies in death that have eclipsed the popularity and influence they experienced during their lifetimes. Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse were later added to this list, also dying at the age of 27.¹
In hindsight, its tempting to ask if Hendrix’s life would have turned out better if only he’d hooked up with some kind of spiritual guide or director.
It’s a moot point, of course. His greatness as a guitarist was probably linked to his lifestyle choices. So we might say that he was a great artist but not a great mystic.
Having said that, he certainly didn’t let fame go to his head:
“I feel guilty when people say I’m the greatest on the scene… Your name doesn’t mean a damn, it’s your talents and your feelings that matter. You’ve got to know much more than just the technicalities of the notes; you’ve got to know what goes between the notes.”
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Gnosticism was an early Christian heresy containing many ideas previously existing in different forms and places within the ancient world. These unorthodox beliefs are mentioned in the New Testament by St. Paul, and were more systematically condemned by the Christian Church from the 2nd-century onward.
The Greek word gnosis means “knowledge.” In the context of gnosticism this isn’t bookish but experiential knowledge, supposedly of the divine.
Most gnostics believed that they fully understood the interconnected workings of the heavens, earth and hell and how this related to cosmic redemption. The gnostics’ chief aim was to gain spiritual knowledge and, in effect, become one with the Christ entity.
Some sects claimed that Christ did not die on the cross. Others envisioned him as a cosmic principle that incarnated to raise the world of matter to a higher level of love, awareness and compassion.
Among 49 Gnostic texts and versions of texts that have been unearthed in the early to mid-20th century, each claims to present the final truth about Christ and the nature of the cosmos. But ironically enough, these alleged truths differ considerably among Gnostic sects.
Possibly influenced by Manichaeism, Platonic and even Egyptian lore, Gnostic theories about ultimate reality are often intricate and esoteric. Only apparently ‘special’ people can understand and access elusive Gnostic truths.
By way of contrast, the New Testament is more concerned with universal salvation and less with complicated cosmological theories. Heaven is described in parables. No real attempt is made to ‘say it like it is,’ mainly because God’s creation is portrayed as far too great to be reduced to any human theory.
Hence, the New Testament’s clear and undoubtedly universal invitation: “Knock and the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9).
Gnosticism was effectively silenced by the Church Fathers but resurfaced in the Middle ages within Jewish mysticism. And the Gnostic idea of ‘knowing from direct experience’ flourishes today.
Religious studies scholars such as Wayne Meeks say that Gnosticism was particularly threatening to the early Church precisely because it had much in common with orthodox belief. Both say “You are gods” (Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34). And the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which some say was written by a twin brother of Jesus, contains sayings of Christ that coincide with those in the New Testament. Other points do differ, however, and virtually no events in the life of Christ are recorded in Thomas.
On the issue of the apparent exclusivity of Gnosticism in contrast to orthodox Christianity, some might say this difference is arguably one of degree. Not a few Christian mystical saints have been regarded as persons more loved by or special to God than, say, the rest of the clergy. Claims like this run throughout, for instance, The Divine Mercy Diary of Saint Kowalska.
More recently, Gnosticism is generally used to denote any kind of spirituality that involves relaxation, meditation or contemplation. The photo featured in this entry, for instance, has the tag line “Practicing zen gnosticism.”
- Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 2 (vridar.wordpress.com)
- Gnostic Ebionites? (vridar.wordpress.com)
- Agnostic? Gnostic. (thesecretatheist.wordpress.com)
- Gnostic writings omitted for good reason – The Pueblo Chieftain: Life (hartleyd.wordpress.com)
- Paul’s Gnostic heritage & Gnostic opposition (vridar.wordpress.com)
- On Gnosticism, An Introduction (apologus.wordpress.com)
- Gnostic Gnostrils! (bizarrocentral.com)
- Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism: 3 – the pre-christian date (vridar.wordpress.com)
- Pre-Christian Christ Gnosticism 5 – The Christ Title (2) (vridar.wordpress.com)
The Doors were a 1960s and early 70s rock band from Los Angeles, California, consisting of Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, John Densmore and lead man Jim Morrison.
Morrison was one of the bad boys of rock who also had poetic substance, charisma and exceptional singing ability. The group charted several classic tunes. Light my Fire, Hello I love you, L.A. Woman, Riders on the Storm and recorded other songs with lasting influence, such as Break on Through, Love Street, The Spy, The End, Soul Kitchen and the live epic Celebration of the Lizard.
Morrison is also a recognized poet, and his song lyrics advocate an inner journey to the psychological underworld, urging fans to “break on through to the other side.”
Morrison apparently had a photographic memory. Biographers Danny Sugarman and Jerry Hopkins say that Morrison would ask his friends to open up and tell him the page number of any book in his library. Morrison would then apparently recite from memory all the words on that particular page.¹ If this story is true, it’s conceivable that Morrison was remote viewing and not necessarily reading from memory.
Like his sometimes melancholic (and depressing?) contemporary Jimi Hendrix, Morrison’s drug induced mysticism ended up in tragedy. He died at age 27 in his Paris apartment bathtub, surrounded by rumors of ongoing substance abuse. Despite his bad end, his music, personal philosophy and raw energy still inspires young and older fans to this day.
¹ Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive, New York: Warner Books, 1980.
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- The Strange Death of Jim Morrison (poorrichards-blog.blogspot.com)
- Jim Morrison: Sexy or Not Sexy? (fabsugar.com)
- “Jim’s last walk” by Alain Ronay (jimmorrisonsparis.com)
- THE DOORS – Live At The Bowl ’68 On DVD, Blu-Ray In October (bravewords.com)
- July, The Doors history in microcosm (examiner.com)
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Little Richard (born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5, 1932) was a Rock and Roll pioneer.
Little Richard began singing gospel tunes before his talent was discovered. He forcefully claims to be the largely overlooked originator of Rock and Roll.
In the early 1960′s he tried to rekindle his former glory. One of his guitarists during this period was Jimi Hendrix. His hits include Long Tall Sally and Good Golly Miss Molly.
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Just let me hear some of that
Rock and roll music,
Any old way you choose it;
It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it,
Any old time you use it.
It’s gotta be rock and roll music,
If you want to dance with me,
If you want to dance with me.
–Rock and Roll Music, Chuck Berry
Rock and Roll is a form of popular music originally emblematic of the freedoms, joys, challenges, heartaches and rebellion of youth.
Rock and Roll developed in the 1950s as a synthesis of Country-Western and Blues music. Interestingly enough, the accent falls on the back beat which emphasizes the second and fourth beat (ta TA ta TA), the reverse of the military march, which accents the first and third beat (TA ta TA ta).
In the 1960s and 70s the target market of Rock expanded, as did the music. Dianna Ross and The Supremes helped to shape the Motown sound (music from a record company based in the automobile producing city of Detroit), while British groups like the Moody Blues and the perhaps unsurpassable Beatles made Rock accessible to kids from 2 to 102. Meanwhile, American groups like The Doors (with Jim Morrison) and soloists like Jimi Hendrix remained a threat to conservative parents throughout North America and beyond.
At this time Rock branched out into different styles and related marketing categories: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, Funk, Raggae, Soul, Easy Rock, Disco, Glam Rock, Pop Rock, Bubble Gum Rock, Folk Rock, etc.
Some of the major players in this period were Paul McCartney and Wings, The Rolling Stones, Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), Pink Floyd, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, The Who, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Elton John, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Carole King and many more talented outfits. But things needed to change.
The late 1970s brought on reactionary trends such as Punk Rock and New Wave. Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols are often credited with spearheading Punk Rock, while innovative groups with a stripped-down sound like Devo, The B-52s and The Talking Heads enjoyed success. The Talking Heads continued to make their mark into the 80s, their apparently postmodern approach being avidly discussed among ivory tower academics.
Rock in 1980s, however, was mostly characterized by increasingly slick studio productions, made possible by the advent of digital recording technology. Duran Duran is a good example of this new lush sound, whereas Depeche Mode used digital sampling to create a more industrial sound. Other important groups such as Soft Cell and The Eurythmics used technology to minimal effect while The Art of Noise used the new digital sampling technique in their own way, often emphasizing the orchestra hit–i.e. having a full-burst orchestral sound at the touch of a finger.
Madonna was a sensation in the 80s, as was Sting and The Police and, of course, Michael Jackson. Meanwhile, the New Age movement and ‘ambient music’ emerged. Ambient music is a diffuse style (some might say spacey) that was pioneered by the respected producer Brian Eno (Eno also made Rock and Roll albums) in the late 70s. Eno’s most important album is probably “Music For Airports” (1978), a soft and repetitive strain of analogue voice and piano loops. The idea and sound carried through into more accessible digital New Age productions with the likes of Enya, Windham Hill records and others. And stars like U2, David Bowie, The Talking Heads, Philip Glass periodically collaborated with Eno.
In 1980 John Lennon and Yoko Ono released the commercially successful album, Double Fantasy. Sadly, Lennon was murdered by a misguided fan in that same year.
The 90s saw increasingly lush studio production with the likes of Mariah Carey and Celine Dione. Others like the late Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and The Smashing Pumpkins kept it straight up and simple. And Radiohead came up with a sound reminiscent of the 70s band Jethro Tull.
Some veteran rockers continued to flourish in the 90s with top-selling albums, such as Elton John and David Bowie. Other stars like Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan released cds but seemed to lose touch with the pulse of the people.
Rap, Hiphop, Dance, Grunge and Techno (now a branch of Electronica) also took off in the 90s.
The new millennium has seen more powerful woman acts like Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne, and it’s fitting that Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, who’ve billed themselves as the “longest running rock act,” continue to fill large stadiums.
There’s no easy summary of Rock’s meaning today. Some see it as a consumer-driven sellout; others, as a window to artistic and social possibilities.
Ironically, some rock stars are now seen as more socially responsible than many corporate and political leaders. The widely respected granddaddy of Grunge, Neil Young, for instance, has become a prominent spokesperson for the development of Green technologies. And figures like Bob Geldof, Bono and The Rolling Stones (who did a Toronto concert to help that city’s economy after a SARS scare while Billy Joel and Elton John canceled) have virtually inverted the rotten apple image that the moral majority originally imputed to rock stars.
Recently, however, critics have suggested that international simulcast benefit concerts are starting to look more like shallow publicity stunts than effective measures toward global betterment.
And the beat goes on…
Shaman (From Evenki, saman: ecstatic one)
A healer or wise-person, believed to have the ability to perceive spiritual beings and matrices of power, and in some instances perform magic.
Shamanic practice often involves entering into trance states induced by rhythmic music, drumming, dancing, the wearing of animal pelts or paraphernalia such as feathers and horns, and imbibing in naturally occurring psychedelic drugs like peyote.
The visions and journeys of the shaman are said to transcend the usual boundaries of space and time. And some shamans apparently perform magical feats such as creating a butterfly out of thin air.
Many shamans adhere to a cosmology of three interconnected worlds:
- The underworld of demons and spirits of the unhappy dead
- The middle world of everyday earthly life
- The upper world of helpful spirits
In shamanism mental and physical illness is often seen as a loss or theft of the soul. To heal another person, the shaman apparently embarks on a spiritual voyage to recover a soul to its rightful owner. Alternately, they may remove a spiritual object from a sick person’s soul that is presumably responsible for the illness.
Because it is believed that illness may be brought on by spiritual attack or molestation, the shaman battles negative spiritual forces, beings and objects, which in subtle planes may be tampering with a sick person’s soul.
Most negative forces are said to emerge from the underworld into the middle world, where the shaman battles them by harnessing the helping powers of upper world spirits.
Anthropological research on shamanism suggests that many shamans undergo some form of crisis at a young age, which in contemporary society would likely be viewed as a breakdown or the onset of a mental illness.
This crisis may involve an inner experience of being dismembered, seeing one’s skeleton or being skinned alive.
While some may uncritically accept the enchanting and miraculous truth-claims made by shamans, most psychiatrists would probably say we have no way of knowing whether or not shamanic altered states are genuinely transpersonal and spiritual or mere personal wishes, physiologically induced hallucinations or, perhaps, the activation of memory or primitive brain regions. As for stories about magic, these in large part remain part of an oral tradition, sometimes recorded by anthropologists but clearly not part of the mainstream media or scientific community.
Meanwhile some traditional Christians see the whole shamanic experience as an egotistic and spiritually unclear demonic deception.
Regardless of where one stands on this issue, it seems valid to ask the following questions: Are some shamans psychologically wounded opportunists capitalizing on the vulnerability or gullibility of others? Might some shamans be deceiving themselves and really believe they’re doing valuable spiritual work when, in fact, they’re suffering from a personality disorder? Or, conversely, might the shaman truly have access to realms, powers and abilities that most of us don’t understand nor possess?
The Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade notes that not all initiated into shamanism emerge as successful shamans. Some fail to regain a sense of psychological balance deemed meaningful by self and society. Others choose to pursue another vocation if being a shaman is not economically viable in their community.
- Shaman Elder Maggie Wahls’ 50th Anniversary Teaching
- Why Study Shamanism
- Alchemy, Egypt, and Shamanism
- Spirit Guides & Totems
- The Shaman’s Journey: Impeccability
- The Shaman’s Journey: Intent
- The Shaman’s Journey: The Value of Emotional Control
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In mythology the underworld variously refers to a place beneath the earth’s surface or under the sea, the land of the deceased or a hellish realm filled with demons.
The mythological underworld is usually separated from everyday reality by an expanse or an abyss.
Often the gates of the underworld are guarded by menacing creatures, such as snakes or the giant three-headed dog and underworld’s Lord of Death, Cerberus.
The legendary Greek Orpheus used his melodious lyre to try to liberate Eurydice from Cerberus. But not unlike Lot’s wife, Orpheus ignored a dire warning to not look back during the escape. And while casting a glance over his shoulder Orpheus lost Eurydice to the underworld forever.
In ancient Egypt the sun god Re (or Ra) was said to pass through the underworld on a nightly basis. David Leeming notes that he was attacked by his enemies, particularly Apep, but defended by Seth and other benevolent spirits who had passed into the afterlife.†
The Egyptian Osiris was taken to be the ruler of the underworld, being a sort of death and resurrection figure due to his dismemberment and subsequent reassembly.
A similar belief to the Egyptian Re myth is expressed in India with the sun temple at Konark, essentially a chariot of 24 wheels, where the sun god Surya begins the day as Brahma, enters midday as Siva, and spends the night as Visnu.
A 2003 film about vampires and werewolves is called Underworld and its sequel is Underworld: Evolution (2006).
Depth psychologists tend to link underworld myths with the idea of the unconscious.
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† David Leeming, Oxford Companion to World Mythology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 337.
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Black’s Medical Dictionary (39th edition) defines the unconscious as “a description of mental activities of which an individual is unaware” (p. 567).
In the West, the idea of the unconscious has an interesting history. It is found in the ancient Greek literature of Sophocles, with related concepts such as hubris, and in Shakespeare and more recent writers like James Joyce.
Philosophical debates about its character flourished in the 18th century among thinkers such as John Locke and David Hume.
More recently, Freud, Pierre Janet, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung and others have made important contributions.
Arthur Koestler says the idea of the unconscious was already known before the actual word ‘unconscious’ was coined. Koestler cites several examples where the notion of the unconscious is implied in the arts and philosophy-e.g. Dante, Kepler and Kant.
Koestler also says that consciousness and unconsciousness are not discrete states but exist along a continuum.†
From Koestler it seems reasonable to suggest that the range and character of this experiential continuum varies from person to person. In other words, some individuals consciously access different thoughts and emotions than others.
Perhaps most important is to remember that the unconscious is just a concept.
All too often it’s reified. Reification occurs when ideas are assumed to represent some real entity or thing–for instance, the sociological idea of ‘the state.’ Reified concepts may even point to detailed legal entities.
But the question remains as to whether the thing written and talked about exists as described.
A common mistake among contemporary writers is to say that Freud sees the unconscious as uniquely personal while his former protege Carl Jung sees it as collective. In actual fact both theorist recognize personal and collective aspects within their respective theories of the unconscious.
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† Koestler, Arthur. The Act of Creation. New York: Penguin [Arkana], 1989: 147-177.
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Vodun originated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the West African kingdom of Dahomey.
Spanish slave traders brought inhabitants of Dahomey to North America and the majority of these people ended up in Haiti.
While Haiti is predominantly Roman Catholic, a hybrid form of Catholic Voodoo continues today.
Voodooists believe in a variety of spiritual beings as well as two human souls. One soul, the gros bon ange is free at night to wander.
Like the ancient Chinese, Voodooists believe that the dreamer will die if this soul does not return to the body before waking.
The other soul, the petite bon ange, may stay near its corpse after death for a relatively short while or may transform itself into an inanimate object or animal, such as a snake.
Voodoo also involves rhythmic dancing and divination.
Voodoo mythology emphasizes themes of sex and death, which David Leeming says parallels the West Indian trickster Gede.
Like most tricksters, Gede shakes the cage of the conventional psyche, allowing individuals to penetrate hidden layers of the unconscious and beyond.¹
¹ David Leeming, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 398.
» Ancestor Cults, Hendrix (Jimi), Zombie
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