There is a domain of being higher than just us, apparently ordinary human beings. There is a higher consciousness, a higher order of being which we have always been connected to, but from which we are now estranged. The Fool’s Journey is a path back to that state of being.
There is an alternate view of history besides the “official” view science gives us, and besides the naïve view of the Christian Fundamentalists. I will call it the Traditional view, where the word “Traditional” has the specific meaning given it by Rene Guenon and Julius Evola, among others, during the first half of the last century. It means a worldview that includes elements of a supra-human order. This just means there is a domain of being higher than just us, apparently ordinary human beings. There is a higher consciousness, a higher order of being which we have always been connected to on one level or another, but from which we are now estranged in consciousness, so much so that hardly anybody remembers anything about it. How this state of affairs came to be is the subject of what follows.
Humankind once had full conscious awareness of other, higher levels of being and existence. Today we would call this a spiritual or divine reality. This experience was in addition to a material existence on Earth; we were able to successfully blend individual, bodily awareness with a universal awareness that naturally extended into other domains of reality beyond the mundane world we experience today. We had, so to speak, one foot in material reality and one foot in a spiritual reality of oneness; we could move from one level of reality to the other at will. Said differently, we were plugged into the spiritual realm, and this is the natural human state; the limited state of awareness we experience today is merely usual in this modern time—it is not normal.
The Golden Age
We were, of course, quite different then than now, and in the main, our present state extends back to before recorded history. Therefore, other than myths and legends, we have no detailed account of the experience of this primordial conscious state. We do have, however, many, many such myths from over 350 cultures around the world. This early time was called the Golden Age or the Days of Yore. The usual way we understand this period of our history is to not be history at all, but merely false stories someone made up. Yet it’s hard to see how so many stories from so many times and places could be so similar unless there was some concrete truth to them. Here in the West we are most familiar with the Garden of Eden story in Genesis, but the Greek’s had a very similar Golden Age, as did the Norse, the Native Americans, and dozens of others.
Life must have been quite different during those times, so much so that it’s impossible to imagine what life was like with an awareness that spread not only to others, but to other times and places, even to other realms of existence. What did we do? What were our jobs and our pleasures? One clue might be the word “dominion” from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. We have chosen to understand this as control over animals, birds and fishes, to kill them and do what we want with them, but the word originally meant something close to the term animal husbandry, with the implication that we were in a profound sense responsible for them. We will have to leave this question open, although through what follows, we should not forget that voided responsibilities must at some point be reassumed.
The more immediate question, however, is what happened to this Golden Age? Why don’t we all experience a greater consciousness? The majority of the Golden Age stories are followed by one kind of catastrophe or another: a flood, fires descending from the skies, howling, hurricane-force winds. There is now scientific evidence that some cataclysmic event occurred about 11,500 years ago, even though the exact nature and cause of this event or series of events is still unknown. Perhaps a large object passed nearby Earth carrying in its wake dozens or hundreds of objects that struck the surface of Earth. The oceans heaved, volcanoes spewed ash into the sky, blistering hot hurricane-force winds raged around the planet. Swarms of fireballs raced across the sky, causing terrible destruction; massive bolts of lightning tens of thousands of miles long discharged as our Earth and another sizeable body equalized the electrical potential difference between them. Such objects are the source of our idea of dragons: seemingly living beings spouting fire, “flying” across the skies with long tails that caused unimaginable destruction. We may never know the cause or nature of this cataclysmic event, but we do know it’s effect: Earth’s surface convulsed and there was terrible loss of life.
For humans, though, this was not the worst of it. At this time there was a significant change in Earth’s electromagnetic environment that had the effect of switching off our consciousness of the higher realms. Some condition in the life-matrix of the planet had permanently changed, and it was now much harder to access those same spiritual levels of reality. Nearly everyone was stuck in a physical body, stuck with an isolated, stranded consciousness, with no awareness of the unifying levels of awareness everyone had before the catastrophe. They were alone within themselves, and afraid.
Much life was lost, but not all. The planet eventually recovered to a new equilibrium, but humankind—the vast majority of those humans that survived—did not fully recover. Our consciousness narrowed, contracted. We lost awareness of everything except what was immediately before us. We experienced ourselves and “reality” as being merely local, instead of universal as it was before. We became locked in a windowless basement, so to speak, instead of having full run of the upper stories. We forget who we are, our true nature as physical/spiritual beings.
Whatever the cause of this catastrophe, the result for nearly everyone was the diminished consciousness we still have today. Our problem today is not evolution, but of recovery from a sudden devolution that happened well prior to the beginning of the historical period, yet not so long ago that it has been forgotten, or even, at times, partially restored.
For all was not completely lost back then, nor is it today. A few people never lost their connection. In many different times and places they tried to teach others how to strengthen that which was still within them, but was now latent and isolated. Sometimes this worked, but more often something else happened instead: certain individuals regained partial, but imperfect connections. Fears generated by the conditions in the outer world combined with the powers and abilities genuine spiritual connection always confer, and so led to a type of person history knows only too well: the taker, the person with a fear of lack in their lives, like everyone else, but with the ability and will to act against others and take what they had in an attempt to assuage that lack.
Thus was humanity divided into three parts: the Many, the Powerful and the Few: the majority who lived in spiritual isolation, the minority who took whatever they could from these ones, and the very few who retained (or regained) their connection, but were unable to stop the rise into power of the second group.
Sometimes the Few were able to openly teach those who wished to regain their connection. Sometimes this was successful, but often it failed and people learned only enough to exert their new powers over the Many. Fear of lack, brought on by spiritual isolation, is at the root of this; pride and self-assertion abet this fear. This process and all its consequences were caused by the catastrophe, and today we call it the Fall of man.
In the West, the names of some of the Few are known: Pythagoras, Plato, Parmenides, Buddha, Plotinus, Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Krishna and the archetypal figure called Jesus. Much more well-known, though, are the names of the Powerful: Genghis Kahn, Alexander, the Roman emperors, Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin.
Cut now to seventeen hundred years ago to the rule of Constantine. Religious tolerance ended. Learning ended, except in the hierarchy of the newly-transformed Catholic Church—the word means “universal,” as in universally imposed on everyone within the Church’s long reach. Books deemed heretical—which was nearly all of them—were burned in large numbers. Many thousands were killed for their beliefs. The thought police had arrived, to eventually culminate in the Inquisition and later the Witch Trials.
The Secret Clues
In this atmosphere, the Few were forced underground across much of the Western world. This situation has lasted for well over a thousand years, yet their influence never entirely disappeared. They coded their message in various ways, using symbols and allegories that were not obviously offensive to the Church. Severed heads were one type of symbol that had been used at least since early dynastic Egypt in the figure of hawk-headed Horus. The Celtic god Bran was beheaded, though his head continued to talk for seventy years. John the Baptist was beheaded in a mystical rite the Church never did understand correctly. Renaissance artists such as da Vinci, Poussin and others cleverly disguised severed heads in their paintings. The Templars worshipped a mysterious head called Baphomet, the real meaning of which has been all but lost in the sea of modern exoteric speculation. The Grail legends feature a head on a platter that echoes John’s. All these symbols refer to an essential step in the process of restoring one’s inner, spiritual connection: consciousness must be separated from the bodily senses, and transferred into a new, subtle body that is built to contain it. Then consciousness and body are reunited, each transforming the other. This process was called the Great Work by the alchemists. Jesus called it attaining the Kingdom of Heaven.
Other allegories and symbols used by the Few were the love poetry of the Troubadours, the metallic symbolism of Medieval alchemy and the most important set of symbols for our purposes, the twenty-two Tarot trumps.
Evidence exists for several strains of the Few throughout history. These have either remained unbroken through the ages, or submerged themselves for a time then resurfaced. Tantra, the oldest spiritual tradition in the world, still exists openly today and has been successfully re-introduced into the West, albeit with some distortion. Another strain was found among the Celts, but died out—or at least disappeared—after the Council of Trent in the seventh century. It exists today only dimly in the Grail and Arthurian material.
A third strain consists of those who call themselves Sufis. Associated in recent centuries with Islam, Sufism is at least twenty-five hundred years old, and may have originated before that in India as a form of Tantra or indebted to it. Sufism came to the West during the Crusades from the Near East and Moorish Spain. All of these strains have intertwined over the centuries, but is to the Sufis we owe the Tarot trumps, as these—in a certain form—are part of traditional Sufic teaching material.
The Tarot trumps were originally unnumbered. The accepted sequence used today originated in fifteenth-century Italy, where they were used to denote the symbolic sequence of religious pageants called triumphs, hence the name trumps. But this was not their original purpose nor sequence; it was merely a cover story to those who knew its real meaning and use.
The trumps, arranged as shown in the accompanying diagram, describe on the left side the state of human consciousness after the cataclysm (itself symbolically illustrated on several different levels by the Tower card), and then across the diagram illustrate the process which may be undertaken to restore the original, primordial state of consciousness everyone enjoyed during the Golden Age.
The Fool’s Journey
Thus to the three divisions of humanity—the Many, the Powerful and the Few—may be added one more: the Fools. “Fool” is used here as a technical term for any person willing to look foolish before his peers in order to pursue an inner path toward spiritual reintegration, reunion and transformation. The process toward this goal is called the Fool’s Journey to Freedom. It is a journey of initiation in the traditional sense of the word. It is also a journey toward love, which is an attribute of the transcendental-self.
What is the nature of this journey and of the work involved? It is an inner journey, of course, that seeks a transformation of consciousness to a non-individual level, which is entirely outside the bounds of ordinary, sensory reality. This involves the death of the ego/personality, which is implied by the severed heads metaphor. What dies is the exclusive conscious identification of the self with the body. A new body—subtle and non-physical in nature—is built, into which one’s consciousness is transferred. This body, and the consciousness within it, is capable of continuing to exist even after the death of the physical body. This process is known as palingenesis, a term used in the Orphic mysteries to denote reincarnation or rebirth into another ontological level—another level of reality. One’s entire being is transformed, and so the primordial consciousness of the Golden Age may be restored, even in these modern times.
Summary and a Story
So this is merely an overview: necessarily brief and without citations, and really, any kind of proper introduction. But it’s enough to raise interest, questions, and certainly hackles in some quarters, but to these last, no attention can be spared. Germane, though, are questions such as, “Yes, but did the Golden Age really exist? What proof is there?” To which no definitive answer can be given. There is no direct evidence: no potshards, no written tablets, no extant ruins. There was a global cataclysm, after all, when all such physical evidence would have been destroyed. “But how convenient,” you reply. “If there’s no evidence, this whole discussion is meaningless. It’s just some murky theory without proof.”
But I didn’t say there was no evidence, just no physical evidence. For the Golden Age was never merely on a map, it was and still is a state of consciousness we can each regain by dint of proper practice. You can’t find Shangri-La, say, by getting on an airplane to Nepal. The road back to Paradise lies entirely within, and is accessible to those who embark on the inner journey to re-discover it, and so bring it back into the world.
A little Sufi teaching story illustrates this idea, and makes a fitting end to this overview.
The mullah Nasrudin was down on his hands and knees in the street outside his house. A friend came by and saw him. “What are you doing, Mullah?” asked the friend.
“I have lost something, and am looking for it.”
The friend was going to get down and help, but knowing Nasrudin, asked first, “Where did you lose this thing?”
“Inside the house,” replied the Mullah.
“Well, why are you looking for it out here?” asked the exasperated friend.
“Because the light’s better.”