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  • Writer's pictureDan Thompson

Education, Mysticism and the Phenomenology of Place

The mystical tradition is the link, the middle distance between the humanities and the sciences. It is the addition of this source knowledge that results in a greater understanding of each sub-system of epistemology. Like mercury or the ‘philosopher’s stone’, it joins science + mystery school, philosophy + mystery school, psychology + mystery school.

Taken separately, the separate disciplines speak their own language to their own practitioners who are only too pleased to keep it that way. But if it were known how little they were contributing outside of their own tiny niche, then they might consider a more interdisciplinary approach to knowledge. A thing only known if everyone knows. It doesn’t have to take a thousand years to get an education–but if our textbooks are any indication–it seems it does.

This is not to say that history is unimportant, quoting the old adage, ‘those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,’ but paying too much attention to the past, i.e. never moving forward, tends to have the same effect. The student failing learn any other way to be besides what the past has taught them, so it seems there is ‘nothing new under the sun’.

Progress is not a bad thing, but progress is all we seem to have. What we need is a basis in something that doesn’t change, the stone (both alchemical and physical), mythology, stories, landscape, sacred space.

As the world changes, we are compelled, either consciously or unconsciously to change with it, and it is not changing into anything we want, or know how to be. So the farther we get from the source, place, the less influence it has on us, and the more time does! Weighing us down, controlling our lives. Time and space decoupling from place and turning into a hundred thousand tiny little things that we have to keep track of.

We live in places we don’t have any connection to. In the past people were able to choose where they lived and moved around more or less as they pleased, until they found some place they liked, but now we tend to be opportunistic about where we live. Choosing places based on economic pressures, work and parts of town that we can afford, even if these places are undesirable. Often suffering physically as well as emotionally (mentally) because of it, with no recourse or precedent in the modern world to confront these pressures, whether in our individual beliefs or in the professional, western tradition of the sciences.

Life itself being forced against its nature to perform acts, compelling us to live in conditions, including places, that can be likened to a ‘sickness unto death’. The resulting anxiety and fear manifesting as a nervous reaction to encountering the world through a physical body–and place as an extension of the body.

Therefore, life as we know it does not seem to be the project that civilization has been progressing towards. It’s as if it, both life and civilization, is being forced to be something it isn’t or doesn’t want to be.

It would have been valuable beyond estimate to have had a classical humanities education in critical thinking and the trivium, this includes a phenomenological education of pure and direct experience, but that was cancelled before most of us were even born.

More than knowledge, one needs to know how to learn, because the more one knows, the more one knows how they know. Walls that turn to mirrors that double the size of the room. The distinctions between esoteric and exoteric, secret and social have been the walls that have divided knowledge, so much so that they have become part of how information is disseminated, thought about and understood. They are the physical walls that divide rooms in a school or a building downtown where the path of these merely exoteric schools lead.

As we have already said; a thing is only truly known if everyone knows it. We learn the same things over and over again because we never really knew or understood in the first place. How many times have we learned and forgot? It doesn’t have to take a hundred years for humanity to get an education. There are easier ways. Why not get it right the first time? Which is what the hermetic sciences, including alchemy were all about. “Rather than the objectification and control of the known by the knower, (hermetic science) seeks unification and identity transformation of the knower through the known as perceived and experienced (Bamford 2009:56).” In this case it is the direct experience of transcendental phenomenology, via the eidetic reduction that we have discussed before.

We all seem to be absolute beginners, learning those basics over and over again. Widening the gap so all we really have are experts, beginners and people who have to find out for themselves. So all knowledge basically amounts to what they didn’t teach you in school, because there is something perhaps that the experts don’t want us to know, or don’t know themselves–and don’t want us to know that they don’t know. Making us all beginners. Which is why it is important to ‘know thyself’ and by extension; to know the world. To grasp what phenomena are, in and of themselves, as they present themselves to the mind, imagination, without recourse to instrumentation, or a priori knowledge.

In the sense of speculative realism (which we will discuss later in more detail), we have to bring the familiar and the strange together, or at least get them to overlap in order to see where one ends and the other begins and how far they go.

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