|The Mind Parasites||by: Colin Wilson ♦ From: selfdefinition.org|
|For August Derleth who suggested it|
It should get our attention that every person or group of people that have discovered what the Native American people called wetiko unanimously consider it to be the most important topic – there’s not even any competition – to understand in our world today.
Called by many different names throughout history, the spirit of wetiko renders every other issue secondary, for wetiko is the over-arching umbrella that contains, subsumes, informs and underlies every form of self-and-other destruction that our species is acting out in our world.
If we don’t come to terms with what wetiko – which can be conceived of as a virus of the mind – is revealing to us, nothing else will matter, as there will be no more human species. Wetiko inspires the darkest evil imaginable while, at the same time, potentially helps us to wake up to our true nature as creative beings. How wetiko winds up actually manifesting depends upon whether we recognize it as the on-going revelation that it is – it is showing us something about ourselves that is of supreme importance for us to know.
Colin Wilson, in “the supernatural metaphysical cult thriller ”The Mind Parasites, first published in 1967, is using the fictive power of the literary imagination to give living form to this virus of the mind. The more I studied Wilson’s book, the more I had the overwhelming impression that he was really onto something – i.e., that he was tracking the elusive footprints of wetiko – and that he had chosen the form of a fictional narrative to describe, circumscribe and elucidate the nature of this deadly mind virus that threatens us all. It is as if Wilson was waking up to the psychic parasites that were within not only himself, but all of humanity, and his activated unconscious was using the vehicle of the literary imagination to express this realization.
The story of how I came to write a 'Lovecraft novel' for Arkham House is a curious one. Several years back – it must have been about 1959 – I had stopped at the Dorset farm of an old friend – an American named Mark Helfer. The setting of this place would have delighted Lovecraft. The small town of Corfe Castle is little more than a village, with winding streets and an ancient inn that sells superb beer. The castle itself is an impressive ruin dating back to the eleventh century and from its ramparts you can look out over the 'wind blasted furze' of Hardy's Egdon Heath. To get to Mark Helfers's farm, you turn under an ancient bridge, then climb a step and narrow road into the hills. And finally, on a high exposed hilltop, you reach the grey stone farmhouse, many hundreds of years old, with its thick walls and tiny windows. Its ceilings are low; the floors are of stone slabs; it has that smell of age and coldness which is not unpleasant.
And then I lay in a bed at half past eleven at night, the bedside lamp flickering (for the electricity was produced by a dynamo that thumped away in the distance), pleasantly drunk on Marks's home made cider. (In England, all cider is alcoholic.) But I felt like reading before I dropped off to sleep, so I poked around the room for a book. And apart form old bound volumes of Punch and the Illustrated London News, all I could find was a book called The Outsider and Others by H. P. Lovecraft.
The title interested me for a simple reason. Some three years earlier, I had been hurled into notoriety by the completely unexpected success of my first book, The Outsider, a rather heavy tome on existential philosophy. It had become an overnight best seller – to the publisher's amazement – and was translated in sixteen languages within the course of a year. I knew my title was not original. The Negro writer Richard Wright had written a book of the same title in the early fifties. Camus's L'Etranger, called The Stranger in America, is translated into English as The Outsider. There are at least three more novels of the same title. Still, I felt that my use of the word had a certain originality, for before my book, an outsider had simply meant somebody who didn't belong. ('We can't have that bounder in the club. He's a demned outsidah.')
I opened the Lovecraft book – I'd never heard his name before. It was an old, black-bound edition, printed in the late months of 1939, and it was on crumbling yellow paper that smelt musty. And before falling asleep I read The Outsider, the Rats in the Walls, and In the Vault, the story about the mortuary keeper who chop off the corpse's feet to make it fit the coffin.
I knew immediately that I had discovered a writer of some importance. So the next morning, when I left, I borrowed the book. And driving back towards my home in Cornwall, I brooded on the question of the horror story, and the type of imagination that produces it. I brooded to such good purpose that as soon as I got home, I began to write a book called The Strength to Dream, in which Lovecraft figures largely.
I must confess that my estimate of Lovecraft would not have pleased his most ardent admirers. The view I expressed in that book was that, while Lovecraft was distinctly a creative genius in his own way, his pessimism should not be taken too seriously: that it was the pessimism of a sick recluse and had about an element of rassentiment, a kind of desire to take revenge on a world that rejected him. In short, Lovecraft was a 19th century romantic, born in the wrong time. Most men of genius dislike their own age, but the really great ones impose their own vision on the age. The weak ones turn away into a world of gloomy fantasy.
Well, the book appeared in England in 1961, and I thought I had done with Lovecraft. But later that year, I found myself in Providence, lecturing at Brown University. There I met the Blake scholar Foster Damon, who looks and sounds like Mark Twain, and he showed me the house where Poe had lived and told me of legends that still survived. But here, in this town of clapboard houses, with its streets ankle-deep in leaves, my imagination was haunted by anther writer – Lovecraft. I found that his stories now returned to mind a dozen times a day. I went and looked at the house in which Lovecraft had lived; I spent hours in the university library reading Lovecraft's letters in manuscript, and a thesis that somebody had written on his life and work. Here I read for the first time The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Shadow Over Innsmouth. And I had to admit that there was something about Lovecraft that makes him very hard to dismiss. In many ways, I found him more impressive than Poe. Poe's imagination was simply obsessed by death. In some ways his most typical story is The Premature Burial, which is the kind of nightmare that might occur to any of us. Basically, Poe is a gentle romantic, a lover of beautiful pale women and ancient Gothic mansions set among wooded hills. Lovecraft is not so concerned with death as with terror. Poe is pre-Dracula; Lovecraft is very much post-Dracula. Poe's world is the world we all live in, seen through eyes that were always aware of 'the skull beneath the skin'. Lovecraft's world is a creation of his own, as unique and nightmarish as that of Hieronymus Bosch or Fuseli.
I found the address of Arkham House in a bookseller's catalogue, and wrote to enquire what books of Lovecraft were still available. The result was a friendly letter back from August Derleth who knew my work. As a result of some of Derleth's comments, I made several alterations of the Lovecraft sections in the American edition of The Strength to Dream (although he still considered it unfair to Lovecraft). And at some point in our correspondence, Derleth said: 'Well, if you're so critical about Lovecraft, why don't your write a fantasy novel, and see whether it's any good.…'
For a long time, it was only an idea floating in the back of my mind. Whenever I thought about it, I always came up against the same problem – a problem that has also given some trouble to Derleth, Robert Bloch, Donald Wandrei, and various other writers in the HPL tradition. It is this. You begin your story with the old house or farm or whatever it is, and its queer goings-on. Then the narrator goes to investigate. Then Something Awful Happens – a rotting corpse knocks on the front door, a monster with tentacles on its belly tears down the wall, etc. This is inevitably the climax of the story, and it is hard to think up something that really terrifies you enough to make you terrify the reader.
And then one day, when writing a chapter on phenomenology in a book about my own kind of existentialism, I saw the solution – monsters inside the mind… The result is my first fantasy novel – and probably the only one I shall ever write.
* * *
But to return to Lovecraft, I am now willing to admit that my assessment of his in The Strength to Dream was unduly harsh. But I am still no nearer to understanding why Lovecraft exercises such a curious hold upon my imagination, when the work of Arthur Machen, for example, strikes me as only mildly interesting.
I suppose what makes Lovecraft both good and bad is the fact that he was an obsessed writer. And this is also the reason that so few of the works in the Lovecraft tradition have touched the same level of imaginative power. August Derleth or Robert Bloch can capture the Arkham atmosphere and style excellently, but it doesn't express their true centre of gravity as writers. Bloch is really himself in the all-too-possible horrors of Psycho, with its motel rooms and atmosphere of realistic nastiness such as you might find in the pages of any True Detective magazine. As to Derleth, his finest work is in a sphere far removed from horror of fantasy – books about everyday life in Sac Prairie, about the changes of season, the animals and birds. (His work reminds me in many ways of that of a much underrated English novelist, Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter, as well as of that strange nature mystic, Richard Jefferies.) He is a writer in the great American tradition of Thoreau and Whitman – even, to some extent, of Sinclair Lewis.
This explains why Lovecraft has remained unique, in spite of the number of writers who have been fascinated by his mythical world and by his style. He created the Cthulhu Mythos out of inner necessity.
All of this amounts to admitting that Lovecraft possessed genius. And it is this, I think, that makes him basically a tragic figure. It also links him with my own 'Outsider' thesis, and with the present novel.
My stating point in The Outsider was that, round about the year 1800, a strange change come over the human race – or over an important part of it. Quite suddenly, there appeared a new sort of man – romantic man. In the days of ancient Greeks, romantic man would have been regarded as wicked and dangerous. Because some deep instinct tells him that man is not a mere insect, a 'creature', but is, in some important sense, a god. The Greeks called this sin hubris, and it was punishable by madness and death. And that is why the fate of so many of the romantics would have confirmed the Greeks in their view that these men were wicked and dangerous. When you come to think of it, the list of men of genius who died insane, or in accidents, or of tuberculosis, or committed suicide, is terrifying and impressive. Shelley, Keats, Poe, Beddoes, Holderlin, Hoffmann, Schiller, Kleist, Nietzsche, Van Gogh, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Lautreamont, Dowson, Johnson, Francis Thompson, James Thomson… the list could be extended for pages. And these are only some of the famous ones. How about all the would-be poets and artists who never made the grade and died quietly in some dirty lodging house?
Now all romantics have one thing in common. They are like those Greek sailors who heard the Syren's song, and prefer to fling themselves overboard rather than return to the dull world of everyday existence. Or like the lame child in the Pied Piper who describes how, when the Piper played, he heard a 'joyous land', 'where everything was strange and new', and who now spends the rest of life mourning for the lost vision. Most people seem contented to plod through commonplace lives; the romantic has glimpsed something beyond the commonplace. All romanticism is summed up in the great sentence of Axel (in the play by Villiers de L'Isle-Adam), 'As for living, our servants will do that for us'.
There is a great novel by the British writer L. H. Myers (who committed suicide in the 1940's) called The Near and the Far, and its opening chapter has the perfect symbol of the romantic longing. It takes place in India in the 16th century, and opens with the young Prince Jali standing on the tip of a palace, looking out across the desert – over which he reflects that there are two deserts; one is glory to the eye; the other is agony to the feet as you plod across it. And the two deserts never come together; if Jali goes out of the palace, seeking the desert that is so beautiful to the eye, he will encounter the other desert, the one that is a weariness to the trudge. The near and far… this is the basic problem of the romantics. As Yeats once said:
- “Nothing that we love overmuch
is ponderable to the touch”
This is why romantics find the real world so dreary and unpleasant. Sometimes they loathe this real world so much that their work becomes a paean of blasphemy, like the work of De Sade or Lautremont.
It is a story that is repeated over and over again. I am acquainted with the author of one of the finest supernatural novels ever written: E. H. Visiak – an old man now approaching his nineties. His Medusa is a novel of such strange power that it haunts the mind for years after one has read it. A few weeks ago, Visiak sent me the manuscript of his autobiography to read. And I had not read more than ten pages before I thought: 'Yes, it's the same thing all over again…' That strange curse of the 19th century. Visiak was a shy, quiet boy, the son of middle class parents, and the world of his childhood was a world of enchantment. Then come his teens, and the necessity to work for a living, and 'the shades of the prison house begin to close'. He spent the next twenty years of his life in the telegraph office of a news agency, not very happy, leading a lonely, bookish existence. During his childhood, his happiest times had been when staying by the sea. So Visiak began to write poetry about pirates and secret islands, then produced his first novel, The Haunted Island, and then, many years later, his masterpiece, Medusa. And now, in his eighties, he is an old man whose life haven't been tremendously happy. He is a haunted man, another victim of the syrens's song.
Visiak's closest friend was the novelist David Lindsay, whose Voyage to Arcturus seems to me perhaps the greatest novel of the 20th century. (This has recently been reissued in America by Macmillan.) Lindsay's story was much the same a Visiak's – a tremendous vision, expressed in Voyage to Arcturus and The Haunted Woman. But his contemporaries were not ready for it; he lived a life of poverty and neglect in Cornwall, and died in the forties. Lindsay possessed towering genius; Visiak's genius is of an altogether more gentle and romantic nature. Yet both are victims of this 'outsider tragedy' that is so common to our time: men whose vision makes them unfitted for the struggle for everyday existence, but whose genius is not of the 'commercial' nature.
These outsiders live like hermits in the midst of modern cities. If they are lucky – like Kierkegaard – they have a private income, and can write their strange, contemplative books in peace. If they are not lucky – like Lovecraft – their fate is the saddest in the world.
* * *
In Heartbreak House, Shaw makes Ellie Dunne state an important truth. Shotover asks her how much his soul eats, and she replies:
'Oh a lot. It eats music and pictures and books and mountains and lakes and beautiful things to wear and nice people to be with. In this country, you can't have them without lots of money: that is why our souls are so horribly starved.'
This is true. The outsider-poet is not a hermit by choice. Lovecraft declares in one of letters that he would like to lounge in the sun on the deck of a yacht, looking at the shore-line of Greek islands. Men hunger for experience as they hunger for food and drink. And how can a man express what is best in him without a certain amount of co-operation from fate? Can you imagine a Shelley born in a London slum? Can you imagine a Byron born in the Gorbals of Glasgow or the Bowery in Lower Manhattan? It might seem that the lives of Keats, Shelley and Byron were tragic enough in their way. But at least Keats somehow managed to avoid working for a living, and spent much of his time on tours of England and Scotland. At least Shelley went to Eaton and Oxford, and spent the next ten years wandering around Europe. At least Byron had an income and was never short of beautiful mistresses. What about the 'outsiders' who are not so lucky? The declaration of rights declares that all men have right to a certain freedom. But there is no declaration of rights for Outsiders that declares that they all have a right to the experiences that will feed their souls and allow them to realize their potentialities.
This was Lovecraft's problem. He was born into a dreary provincial city – attractive enough in its way, but a painfully narrow and dull, the Norway in which Henrik Ibsen grew up. In the northern states of America, as in England, you cannot have 'beautiful things' without having lots of money. What is more, America has always been one the worst in the world for an outsider to be born into. This is gradually ceasing to be true as America pours some it surplus income into education and encouragement of the arts, but it was true for Lovecraft, as it had been true for Poe and Melville. What is more, Lovecraft was urgently in need of a private income or of patronage; the only patronage he received was that of Weird Tales and, to a lesser extent, of his wife during their brief marriage.
We might raise the interesting question: what would have happened if Lovecraft had possessed a private income – enough, say, to allow him to spend his winters in Italy and his summers in Greece or Switzerland? My own suspicion is that he would have developed certain traits which are already apparent in his work. He would undoubtedly have produced less, but what he did produce would have been highly polished, without the pulp magazine clichés that disfigure so much of his work. And he would have given free rein to his love of curious and remote erudition, so that his work would have been, in some respect, closer to that of Anatole France or the contemporary Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. (I myself have only recently discovered the tales of Borges – collected in Labyrinths and Ficciones, both available in paperbacks – and am amazed to find a living writer so close to Lovecraft in spirit.) I suspect that some of the more horrific aspects of his work would never have developed – the actual physical horrors of the stories dealing with necrophilia or cannibalism – but that there would have been an increasing emphasis on imaginative fantasy – as typified in The Shadow Out of Time or The Call of Cthulhu.
What I am suggesting is that the emphasis upon the gruesome and the violent was, to a large extent, Lovecraft's way of keeping himself mentally healthy in the dull, stifling atmosphere of Providence. This does not dismiss it as some form of 'compensation'; all art is the artist's way of keeping himself mentally healthy. But then again, the same is true of crime and sadistic violence, Blake says: 'When thought is closed in cave, then love shall show its root in deepest hell'. In other words, when creativeness and vitality are frustrated, they rage and become violent. Peter Kurten, the Dusseldorf sadist who killed eleven people between 1927 and 1929, admitted that his sadism had first had time to develop in long periods of solitary confinement in prison. To save himself from total boredom and the degradation that comes with stagnation, he developed sexual fantasies, which had to become more and more powerful as time went by – for the mind's images tend to fade, like bad carbon copies, when not stimulated by a certain amount of reality. The same is true of De Sade. It is all very well to condemn De Sade for the nightmare horrors of Juliette and 120 Days of Sodom, but we have to remember that there is no evidence that he ever tried to put them into practice; they were the work of a man of enormous vitality who spent much of his adult life in jail.
Lovecraft also lived in a kind of jail for much of his life. It is a sign of his genius that, in spite of lack of money, of ill health and frustration, he still managed to create a world of such haunting poetic power.
For Lovecraft was far more than a frustrated product of a rainy provincial town. He was a man whose struggle to find self-expression turned him into a kind of prophet or magician. In this respect, he reminds me of the Swedish dramatist Strindberg. Strindberg was also born into a frustration provincial backwater; he also spent his life struggling against neglect, misunderstanding and poverty; at one point in his career, he went completely insane. Like Lovecraft, Strindberg was fascinated by the past, and by such subjects as alchemy and black magic. And towards the end of his life, he made a series of oddly accurate predictions about the 20th century, which he saw as a time of torment for the human race, particularly for the 'outsiders'. In his last play, written in 1910, he has a Japanese who wants to commit suicide to atone for his sins, and who has decided to take a drug that will make him appear to be dead, and then leave a note asking to be cremated. When someone asks: 'But supposing you wake up in the furnace', he says, 'I want to wake up; I want to feel the purifying flames…'. But the most hair-rising part of all this is that the name of the Japanese is Hiroshima…
Lovecraft also seemed to have this strange insight into the future. In The Call of Cthulhu, he talks about a time when a large part of the human race seems to go insane, when nightmarish things happen, unexplainable and horrible crimes. Thirty years after Lovecraft's death, such a time has arrived. In England, a young man and woman kidnap children, torture them, and bury their bodies on the moors; in Chicago, a man forces his way into a hostel and kills eight nurses in long night of terror; another youth enters a hairdresser's shop, makes women and children lie on the floor, and shoots them one by one in the back of the head with a revolver. When asked why he did it, he replies: 'I wanted to get known'… Similar 'motiveless' crimes are happening in every country of the world. Here in Roanoke, Virginia, where I happen to be writing this, the body of a young woman was discovered a few weeks ago. She was a Catholic door to door worker, helping to take a census. Her murderer had cut open her stomach, stuffed it with kerosene-soaked rages, and set them alight. He had apparently done this quite openly, close to a public highway, ignoring the risk of being caught. One can imagine a man having various motives for killing a girl, including the obvious one of rape; by why stuff her with rags and set fire to her?
I am not, of course, claiming that Lovecraft was actually prophetic, in the sense that Nostradamus apparently was. It was simply that he was a man of genius and intelligence, who experienced the worst fears of the 20th century in a particularly virulent form. If he had been born in England a century earlier, his name could have been John Keats. He was a man whose soul needed music and pictures and books and mountains and lakes. He would also have certainly been happier if he had lived in Soho or Vienna or Prague, where he could have met other writers over a glass of cheap wine in sidewalk cafe. His letters to Derleth, Robert Bloch, and various other young writers who needed advice, reveal that he was a highly social man who longed for the company of his equals. But he was also something of a natural aristocrat, and would have found the dreary humiliations of poverty in New York or London unbearable; he preferred the second best of his own home in Providence, where at least he could be poor with a certain amount of dignity and solitude. All this meant that he was experiencing with peculiar intensity the miseries that would be experienced by millions of other 'outsiders' in the course of the next hundred years.* This is why his work had a fascination that goes beyond its actual literary qualities, and perhaps even beyond Lovecraft's intentions. Far more than Hemingway or Faulkner, or even Kafka, he is a symbol of the outsider-artist in the 20th century.
* * *
Now that I have tried to explain my attitude to Lovecraft, it should be easier to understand what I tried to do in writing The Mind Parasites. There are obvious profound differences between my own temperament and Lovecraft's. I am an Englishman; I was born into a working class background in the midlands – the English equivalent of America's midwest. At the age of ten, I found my outlet in science, and then, later, in the plays of Bernard Shaw and the work of T. S. Eliot and Joyce. I started writing horror stories – much influenced by Poe and Hoffmann – at the age of fourteen, I had no alternative but to work in factories – they left my mind free to think – and later on, farm laboring or ditch digging. All this, I suppose, toughened me and freed me from the outsider's greatest enemy – his tendency to morbid self-pity. I was always as voracious a reader as Lovecraft, but my training in science – I meant to go into atomic physics at one time – gave me a tendency to look for essentials in the books I read, and to retain these in memory. The problem that interested me mainly was the problem of the outsider-artist in the 20th century, and of the violence that results when a stupid and materialistic society denies outlet such men – and sometimes even the right to live. There were also deeper aspects of the problem that intrigued me: for example, the strange weakness of the human mind that means that although the outsider-artist longs for freedom, he often doesn't know what to do with it when he gets it. In fact, undiluted freedom is one of the most destructive corrosives ever known; it can eat away a soul in months. Spengler was right when he called our age Faustian.
* I reckon that 'outsiders' are approximately .05% of the total population.
I brought together all my researches in The Outsider, and was lucky enough to make enough money and reputation to be able to devote my full time to writing, with a certainty of an audience. This makes no kind of difference to my basic obsessions. In books like Religion and the Rebel and Beyond the Outsider I continued to explore the question of the outsider-artist in the 20th century and to deeper philosophical implications of the problem. And my novels have continued to show what my critics sometimes call my 'unhealthy preoccupation with violence'. My first, Ritual in the Dark, was a study of sadistic killer based on Jack the Ripper and Peter Kurten. A more recent one, The Glass Cage, deals with the confrontation of a Blakeian mystic, and a murderer whose crimes are based on the Cleveland Torso murders of 1935-37, and our own Thames Nude Murders of the past three years.
I have always believed that a good serious writer can use any convenient form to express his ideas. Shakespeare could write popular comedies; Dostoievsky produced romans policiers; Balzac launched his career with a series of crude 'shockers'. I have used the crime novel – Ritual and The Glass Cage – detective story – Necessary Doubt – science fiction – The Mind Parasites – and even the spy story in my latest novel The Black Room. In every case, it has been my aim to raise the form to a level of intellectual seriousness not usually found in the genre, but never to lose sight of the need to entertain. (I have even written a volume of tongue-in-cheek pornography and diabolism – The Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme – which embodies, in fictional form, the ideas I expound in my phenomenological study, Origins of the Sexual Impulse.)
All of this should make clear why I feel such affinities with Lovecraft, and why the present volume contains my own partly tongue-in-cheek, partly affectionate tribute to him. It so happens that the Lovecraft tradition is largely my own. I feel more at home with books than with people, I take a great delight in adding authenticity to my fiction by piling-in the results of my reading, and by working out elaborate myths of metaphysical systems. So in this book I have combined Lovecraft's preoccupation with strange unknown forces with my interest in the problem of why the human race suddenly began to produce 'outsiders' in such quantity after the French Revolution.
I also realised, after I had finished the book, that I had stolen its central idea – of mind parasites – from a science fiction story I once read. In this story, the first man to travel to Mars suddenly has an experience of some strange creature wrenching itself out of his mind, and hurling itself back screaming towards the earth, which is its home. Unfortunately, this story ended, in the rather 'smart' manner so characteristic of pulp science fiction, with the man landing on Mars, and immediately being possessed again by the same parasites. For some reason, writers of science fiction take a delight in pessimistic ending. (My friend A. E. Van Vogt is a remarkable exception: this is because he never ceases to be preoccupied with the problem of the superman which, like myself, he inherited from Nietzsche and Shaw.) And while I am admitting to theft (something that never bothers me since I feel that, like Shakespeare, I improve everything I steal), I may as well mention being impressed by a film called Forbidden Planet, which I saw in 1956, in which a scientist (played by Walter Pidgeon) conjures up – without knowing it – monsters from his 'id', which destroy every expedition that tries to land on the planet and 'rescue' him. Anyone who wishes to understand phenomenology without effort should go and see this film.
The present novel has one passage to which I would draw your attention: the description of Austin's night-long battle with the mind parasites. This scene – I say with all modesty – is a tour de force, since it spends several thousand words describing a battle that takes place entirely in the mind, and in which, therefore, none of the usual clichés of battle scenes can be called upon.
I should also add that the ghastly, flaccid writing of the opening pages was supposed to be aparody of the Stevenson-Machen type of narrator, with perhaps a touch of Serenus Zeitblom from Mann's Doktor Faustus. It didn't come off; but what the hell, I'd rather get on with another book than tinker about with it. I have also cut out a fifty thousand word extract from Karel Weissman's Historical Reflections from the middle of this novel; my wife felt that it slowed down the narrative. I may later publish it as a separate volume.
– Colin Wilson
Hollins College, Virginia
Colin Wilson wrote over 100 books.
At 24, he was hailed as a major existentialist thinker when his first success, The Outsider (1956) was published.
But in his many books, Mr. Wilson has consistently revealed his contention that insight is achieved during moments of well-being, attained through effort and focus and that pessimism is what robs people of their vital energies.
He lived on the Cornish coast in England.
I must, before I die, find some way to say the essential thing that is in me, that I have never said yet – a thing that is not love or hate or pity or scorn, but the very breath of life, fierce and coming from far away, bringing into human life the vastness and the fearful passionless force of non-human things …
Letter to Constance Malleson, 1918,
My Philosophical Development p. 261
Colin Wilson in 1957.
Credit Express Newspapers/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images
From: The New York Times
Colin Wilson, a self-educated English writer who in 1956 shot to international acclaim with his first book, “The Outsider,” an erudite meditation on existentialism, alienation and creativity, but who incurred critical disdain for a string of later books about murder, sexual deviance and the occult, died on Dec. 5 in Cornwall, England. He was 82.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, his son Damon said.
The author of well over 100 volumes of fiction and nonfiction, Mr. Wilson became a sensation at 24, when “The Outsider” was published and instantly touched a deep nerve in postwar Britain.
Ranging over the voracious reading in literature, science, philosophy, religion, biography and the arts that he had done since he was a boy, “The Outsider” had an aim no less ambitious than its scope: to delineate the meaning of human existence.
The book’s central thesis was that men of vision – among them Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Nietzsche, H. G. Wells, T. E. Lawrence, George Bernard Shaw, Hemingway, van Gogh, William Blake, Nijinsky and the 19th-century mystic Ramakrishna – stood apart from society, repudiating it as banal and disaffecting.
“The Outsider is not a freak, but is only more sensitive than the average type of man,” Mr. Wilson wrote. He added: “The Outsider is primarily a critic, and if a critic feels deeply enough about what he is criticizing, he becomes a prophet.”
In years to come, actual critics would argue over whether Mr. Wilson was a brilliant synthesist or merely an accomplished aphorist whose work lacked methodological rigor. But on the book’s publication, most reviewers, including the distinguished English men of letters Philip Toynbee and Cyril Connolly, were lavish in their praise.
Though “The Outsider” was often described as a philosophical work, Mr. Wilson saw it as fundamentally religious. Unlike existentialists whose worldview, he felt, inclined toward a dour nihilism, he purveyed what he called optimistic existentialism.
“Sartre’s feeling was that life is meaningless, that everything is pure chance, that life is a useless passion,” Mr. Wilson told The Toronto Star in 1998. “My basic feeling has always been the opposite, that mankind is on the verge of an evolutionary leap to a higher stage.”
Mr. Wilson argued that it was possible for mankind to achieve this exalted state through the kind of transcendent experience that comes, for instance, in the presence of great works of art. Such transcendence, he maintained, had been rendered largely inaccessible by the grind of daily life.
Despite his hopeful outlook, Mr. Wilson was labeled one of the original Angry Young Men. That appellation, popularized by the British press, described a cohort of emerging writers, including John Osborne and Kingsley Amis.
He deplored the designation, and in fact had little in common with those writers. As the author of a work of nonfiction, Mr. Wilson was neither a dramatist like Mr. Osborne nor a novelist like Mr. Amis. He did not like them personally or artistically, nor they him. (Mr. Amis once tried to push Mr. Wilson off a roof.)
The label derived largely from an accident of timing. “The Outsider” appeared in May 1956, the same month that “Look Back in Anger,” Mr. Osborne’s acclaimed drama of working-class disaffection, opened in London. Like Mr. Osborne, Mr. Wilson came from a modest background in which intellectual pursuits were anathema.
But if Mr. Wilson was no Angry Young Man, with his lush Romantic hair and roll-neck sweaters he more than looked the part. The papers delighted in the fact that to save on rent while writing “The Outsider,” he had spent his nights on Hampstead Heath, the vast London park. They took to photographing him there, posed with his sleeping bag.
Mr. Wilson’s disdain for the contemporary human condition, coupled with his almost preternatural confidence in his own abilities, also played well with the British news media – at least until the almost inevitable literary backlash set in.
Mr. Wilson and his wife, Joy, in their London flat in 1957.
Credit Keystone, via Getty Images
Colin Henry Wilson was born in Leicester, England, on June 26, 1931; his father, Arthur, worked in a shoe factory. As a boy, Mr. Wilson later said, he was aware that he differed greatly from the “vegetable mediocrity” surrounding him.
“Ever since I was 9 or 10 years old, I had been convinced that I was a genius and was destined for great things,” he wrote in an autobiographical essay for the reference work Contemporary Authors.
A science prodigy, he planned a career in the field until he discovered that his lifework had been usurped.
“My ambition was to develop the atomic bomb,” Mr. Wilson later said. “When this was done in 1945, I lost interest in science.”
He vowed instead to become a writer. Leaving school at 16, he held a series of
On his own in London, Mr. Wilson worked in a cafe by night, spending his days in the reading room of the British Museum, toiling over the manuscript that would become “The Outsider.”
Published by Victor Gollancz in Britain and Houghton Mifflin Company in the United States (where its reception was more measured but nonetheless favorable), the book was translated into many languages.
For Mr. Wilson, the response seemed to augur a major career in world letters. But his growing fascination with deviance – a form of outsiderdom, after all – soon began to tar him.
In an incident reported in the British papers, the father of the young woman who would become Mr. Wilson’s second wife once descended on a dinner party in the couple’s London apartment, brandishing a horsewhip.
The man had come across what he thought were Mr. Wilson’s journals, which detailed acts of sexual sadism, murderous fantasies and other depredations.
“’You’re a homosexual with six mistresses,” Mr. Wilson’s future father-in-law cried, somewhat illogically. The journals in question were actually notes for Mr. Wilson’s first novel, “Ritual in the Dark,” published in 1960.
Attempting to salvage his reputation, Mr. Wilson released his actual journals to the newspapers. But what he had written in those pages (“The day must come when I am hailed as a major prophet”) did him no favors with press or public.
By the end of 1956, some reviewers of “The Outsider” had openly revised their early, rapturous positions. Mr. Wilson’s next nonfiction book, “Religion and the Rebel,” a sequel to “The Outsider” published in 1957, was far less well received.
With his second wife, the former Joy Stewart, he retreated to Cornwall to read and write away from the London literary whirl. He lived for many years in Gorran Haven, a fishing village there.
Volumes in Mr. Wilson’s prodigious output met with occasional success – among them were a nonfiction book, “The Occult,” and a science fiction novel, “The Mind Parasites” – but for the most part he was ignored, if not outright derided, by reviewers.
By his own account, Mr. Wilson was a firm believer in the paranormal phenomena that increasingly occupied his pen; his fascination with murder, he said, stemmed from his vision of the killer as the archetypal outsider.
All in all, this subject matter seemed to ordain him to be misunderstood.
“The police called on me during their investigations into the Yorkshire Ripper murders,” Mr. Wilson said in a 1993 interview, referring to the brutal serial killings in the north of England in the 1970s and early ’80s. “I assumed they wanted my advice. In fact, I was a suspect.”
Mr. Wilson’s survivors include his wife, Joy; their two sons, Damon and Rowan; their daughter, Sally Dyer; a son, Roderick, from his first marriage; and nine grandchildren.
His other books include the novels “The Schoolgirl Murder Case,” “The Space Vampires” and “The Sex Diary of a Metaphysician”; two volumes of memoir, “Voyage to a Beginning” and “Dreaming to Some Purpose”; and the nonfiction works “Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs,” “A Criminal History of Mankind,” “Beyond the Occult: A Twenty-Year Investigation Into the Paranormal,” “Alien Dawn: An Investigation Into the Contact Experience” and “The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders.”
However much he was neglected by the critics in later years, Mr. Wilson remained certain of his literary import.
“I suspect that I am probably the greatest writer of the 20th century,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian in 2006. “In 500 years’ time, they’ll say, ‘Wilson was a genius,’ because I’m a turning point in intellectual history.”
I first came across The Mind Parasites some time in late 1977, when I was a young New Waver, living in Los Angeles, making a living leading my own ‘power pop’ group, The Know. For the last few years I had been reading a great deal of, well, shall we say, unusual literature: Aleister Crowley, H.P. Lovecraft, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky: practically anything I could find on magic, the occult, mysticism and higher states of consciousness. Part of the inspiration for my fascination (or, as my girlfriend at the time considered it, obsession) with the peculiar canon of books the study of which has since become a lifelong occupation, came from one of the members of the band I had just left. Before breaking out on my own, I had been the bassist with the New York group Blondie. But after writing a couple of hit songs for them, and conquering New York, San Francisco, London and other cities, I decided it was time to start my own group. Aside from a few gold records, one of the things I walked away from Blondie with was an interest in the occult. The guitarist – the lead singer’s boyfriend – was deep into horror films, voodoo, black magic, Satanism, and other kitschy aspects of magic and the supernatural. Although I regarded all that (except for the horror films) with several grains of salt, and had never been interested in the occult before, I did find some of the books in his library interesting. One in particular caught my eye; its torn cover and soiled pages suggested it had already been through the counter-cultural wringer a couple of times, and when I slipped it off the shelf one afternoon, I expected nothing more than a good read. Little did I suspect that it would change my life. The book was Colin Wilson’s The Occult, and after a week transfixed behind its pages in my dilapidated room on the Bowery, I emerged a different person.
By the time I moved to Los Angeles a year or so later, I was a dedicated Wilson reader, and since those early days I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting him in his home in Cornwall several times, and of writing about his work (see, for example, my book A Secret History of Consciousness (2003)). Back then I scoured second-hand bookshops for his work, paying high prices for out-of-print copies, and devoured the UK paperback imports that Papa Bach, a legendary but now long-defunct bookshop in Santa Monica, used to stock. Los Angeles in those days was a book fiend’s delight, and if you were, like myself, ravenous for works on magic, the occult, the paranormal, higher consciousness and esotericism, then you could hardly have asked for a better place to live.
Although by the late ‘70s the ethos of the love generation had been replaced by the aggressive nihilism of punk, the remnants of an earlier, more magical and mystical time remained. Great bookshops like Gilberts on Hollywood Boulevard and the Bodhi Tree (where, oddly enough, I later worked) specialized in books on Eastern and Western mysticism, the occult and the offbeat in general. But even the mainstream shops had healthy sections on the occult, and often the remainder tables were filled with cheap reprints of occult classics, books by people like A.E. Waite, Sax Rohmer, Algernon Blackwood. What we call the New Age hadn’t yet started – I mark the beginning of that with the publication of Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy in 1980 – and the atmosphere was more one of exploration and intellectual adventure – as well as sheer fun – and not so much the, to my taste at least, pious sentimentality associated with so much of contemporary ‘spirituality’. There were Israel Regardie’s books on magic and The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Francis King’s books on Crowley, reprints of works about Gurdjieff and Ouspensky; there were Stan Gooch’s books on Neanderthal man, Lyall Watson’s work on the paranormal, Geoffrey Ashe’s books on Glastonbury and the Arthurian Legends. Even respected names from an older generation, like Arthur Koestler, were devoting important works to phenomena like telepathy and synchronicity and attacking entrenched positions in scientific reductionism. And, of course, there was Colin Wilson. Maybe it was me, but it seemed that almost everything worth reading then was coming over the pond (and across the Rockies) from England. I always had a ‘thing’ for England and English writers – maybe that explains why I’ve wound up living here – but I can’t recall any American writers at the time who were producing anything like the sort of stuff I, and a handful of other esoteric Anglophiles, were greedily absorbing. Come to think of it, I can’t think of many now, either.
There seemed to be a ‘movement’ of some kind among these writers, an association of minds all concerned with a shared idea: the possibility of a breakthrough, a mutation or transformation in human consciousness. The limits of the Cartesian/Newtonian mechanistic dispensation were clear.
It would have been a dreary time indeed for anyone with any enthusiasm for knowledge, purpose and heightened experience, if it weren’t for these great books coming over from the UK. And of all the books I assimilated then at a rate I find difficult to match or to even come close to now, none had so great and immediate an impact on me as The Mind Parasites. On one of my regular forages for Wilson’s books (which involved enormously long walks and bus rides, as I hadn’t yet learned to drive, and being without a car in LA is a form of madness) I found an old US paperback edition. It was a Bantam, I think; sadly, I no longer have it, a result of having shipped my library across countries and oceans too many times. But that copy became the focus of a kind of ‘cult’. After I read it I loaned it to a friend, and after he read it, he did the same. Because we had enjoyed it so much, even people who had no interest in science fiction or ‘higher consciousness’ read it, and for a while it was a kind of joke to raise an eyebrow and, nodding knowingly, say “mind parasites, eh?,” whenever anything went wrong.
On my first reading I burned through it in a day or two, only breaking away for necessities like sleep and band practice. Then I read it again, more slowly and deliberately, taking time to copy out scores of passages, meditating on lines like “Human intelligence is a function of man’s evolutionary urge; the scientist and philosopher hunger for truth because they are tired of being merely human.” “The greatest human problem is that we are all tied to the present.” “Man is a continent, but his conscious mind is no larger than a back garden… man consists almost entirely of unrealized potentials.” “I cannot be contented to know that the endless realms of mind now lie open for man’s exploration; this does not seem enough.”
I could go on, but the problem with picking out stimulating one-liners like these is the same problem I encountered when I first began to copy out the many aphorisms that pop up in Wilson’s gripping narrative like sign posts on the way to the Absolute: when do you stop? I found back then that I could easily wind up simply copying the book itself. And now, having re-read it again nearly thirty years after my first encounter (and at this point I have no idea how many times I have re-read it), I still find the same problem. In many ways it strikes me that the narrative, as compulsive as any good thriller, is really an excuse to get to these hard gems of thought.
Most readers know that Wilson wrote the book in response to a challenge by August Derleth, best known as the man responsible for saving the weird writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work from undeserved pulp oblivion. But although the interdimensional horrors that plague mankind are cut from Lovecraftian cloth, they are really only an excuse for Wilson’s protagonists to plunge into a dizzying exploration of their own minds. The real subject of the novel is human consciousness, and in many ways I emerged from my recent rereading with the feeling that the real ‘mind parasites’ are ourselves. We take our minds, our inner worlds, for granted, and do practically nothing to develop their real potential. That this potential exists – and that it is, if not limitless, at least far greater than any of us ever suspect – is the message that Wilson, in dozens of books, has been trying to get across to his readers for half a century. In The Mind Parasites he does this in an entirely new way; at least I can’t think of another book that brings together as disparate influences as Lovecraft, Husserl’s phenomenology, the history of consciousness and the Romantic movement under the same pageturning narrative roof. Or perhaps that is not entirely correct, as Wilson pulled the trick off again when he followed up The Mind Parasites with its sequel, The Philosopher’s Stone, which many consider his finest novel. I hope that this reissue of Wilson’s first existential-horror classic is successful enough for its publishers to consider bringing The Philosopher’s Stone back in print as well. And then there’s The Space Vampires…
Novel? Well, I guess that’s a matter of opinion. There isn’t the character development that we usually associate with novels. This book, along with all of Wilson’s fictions, is really a fable of ideas, philosophical investigations that use the form of the novel – with story, action, characters and dialogue – to embody an exploration of reality. The medium is not looked upon with much encouragement these days, but Plato employed it, as later did Borges, so it has a respected pedigree. Wilson once scandalized the English literary establishment by stating that H.G. Wells was probably the greatest novelist of the twentieth century, and that his late novels – which many consider rather poor examples of his genius – were the most important of the many he wrote. Perverse opinion for its own sake? No; Wilson rates Wells highly because Wells used the novel to attack reality, not merely to portray it accurately, or even to explain it (and God help us from the spate of books ‘explaining’ everything nowadays), but to dig into it, to break open its complacent surface and get to the fiery life beneath. The only other novelist that Wilson rated as highly was the Austrian Robert Musil, author of the unfinishable philosophical epic, The Man Without Qualities. Readers of The Mind Parasites may not share Wilson’s opinion on Wells, but they may feel, I think, that after reading this welcomed republication, that they have something like a literary pickaxe in their hands.
– GARY LACHMAN
January 2005, London
I am the author of more than a dozen books on the meeting ground between consciousness, culture, and the western inner tradition:
Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality (Tarcher/Penguin 2012)
Swedenborg: An Introduction to his Life and Ideas (Tarcher/Penguin 2012)
Jung The Mystic: The Esoteric Dimensions of Carl Jung’s Life and Teachings (Tarcher/Penguin 2010)
The Dedalus Book of the 1960s: Turn Off Your Mind (new, revised, expanded 2nd ed. Dedalus 2010)
Into the Interior: Discovering Swedenborg (2nd edition Swedenborg Society 2009)
Politics and the Occult: The Right, the Left, and the Radically Unseen (Quest Books 2008)
The Dedalus Book of Literary Suicides: Dead Letters (Dedalus 2008)
Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work (Tarcher/Penguin 2007)
In Search of P.D. Ouspensky: The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff (2nd edition Quest Books 2006)
The Dedalus Occult Reader: The Garden of Hermetic Dreams (Dedalus 2005)
A Dark Muse: The Dedalus Book of the Occult (Dedalus 2003)
A Secret History of Consciousness (Lindisfarne 2003)
As Gary Valentine I was a founding member of the pop group Blondie and I recount my memoirs of that time in New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation with Blondie, Iggy Pop, and Others 1974-1981 (2nd edition Thunders Mouth Press 2006)
I wrote the groups’ first single “X-Offender” and my song “(I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear” was a top 10 hit in the UK and Europe. In 1978 as Gary Valentine, I released a single “The First One,” and from ’78 to 1980 fronted my own group, The Know, who in 1980 relased a single “I Like Girls” with Planet Records. In 1981 I was a guitarist for Iggy Pop on two North American tours. In 1996-97 I took part in the Blondie reunion, performing at festivals and recording. In 1998-2000 I fronted a second group, Fire Escape, and in 2003 released a CD Tomorrow Belongs to You containing unreleased early recordings with the Know as well as material from my time with Fire Escape. In 2006, despite all my efforts, I was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame.
Since 1996, I have lived in London where I am a full time writer, contributing to the Fortean Times, Independent on Sunday, Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, Gnosis, Mojo, EnlightenNext, Lapis, Sunday Times and other journals in the UK and US. I lecture regularly in London and abroad, am a frequent guest on BBC Radio 3 and 4, have appeared in several television documentaries on the history of the counterculture, and my work has been translated into German, French, Czech, Russian, Italian, Finnish, Norwegian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Turkish.
Inner Knowing ed. Helen Palmer (Tarcher/Penguin 1998)
Book of Lies ed. Richard Metzger (Disinformation 2003)
The Inner West ed. Jay Kinney (Tarcher/Penguin 2004)
Punk: The Whole Story (Dorling Kindersley 2006)
Between Method and Madness: Essays on Swedenborg and Literature ed. Stephen McNeilly (Swedenborg Society 2005)
The Arms of Morpheus; Essays on Swedenborg and Mysticism ed. Stephen McNeilly (Swedenborg Society 2007)
I have also written a foreword to a new edition of Colin Wilson’s novel The Mind Parasites (Monkfish 2005), edited and written an afterword to Valery Bruisov’s novel The Fiery Angel (Dedalus 2005), and am a regular contributor to Strange Attractor Journal. I have written two voulmes in the Pauper’s Press Colin Wilson Studies series and contributed a long essay on the work of the avant garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger to the British Film Institute’s 2009 box set DVD release of Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle.
Recently I contributed an audio guide to an exhibition on Secret Societies held at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany. The exhibition is on from June to November 2011, when it will move to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Bordeaux. Here you can listen to the guide – in German – and find out more about the exhibition. The exhibition’s catalogue, to which I’ve contributed two essays, is available here.
It should get our attention that every person or group of people that have discovered what the Native American people called wetiko unanimously consider it to be the most important topic – there’s not even any competition – to understand in our world today. To give one example: Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan refers to wetiko (though by a different name) as “the topic of all topics.” Called by many different names throughout history, the spirit of wetiko renders every other issue secondary, for wetiko is the over-arching umbrella that contains, subsumes, informs and underlies every form of self-and-other destruction that our species is acting out in our world. If we don’t come to terms with what wetiko – which can be conceived of as a virus of the mind – is revealing to us, nothing else will matter, as there will be no more human species. Wetiko inspires the darkest evil imaginable while, at the same time, potentially helps us to wake up to our true nature as creative beings. How wetiko winds up actually manifesting depends upon whether we recognize it as the on-going revelation that it is – it is showing us something about ourselves that is of supreme importance for us to know.
What makes a “wisdom tradition” worthy of the name is whether or not it illumines the covert operations of the wetiko bug. In my writings I am continually expanding my articulation of wetiko as I broaden my learning – I never cease to be amazed when I find yet another tradition steeped in wisdom pointing at wetiko in its own unique and creative way. Wetiko can be thought of as being a parasite of the mind that operates through the blind spots of the unconscious in such a way that hides itself from being seen as it deceives us into thinking and acting in ways contrary to our best interests. In addition to independent researchers like myself, many artists have also been creatively and imaginatively expressing the insidious workings of wetiko psychosis in a wide variety of mediums.
To use one example: Colin Wilson, in “the supernatural metaphysical cult thriller”The Mind Parasites, first published in 1967, is using the fictive power of the literary imagination to give living form to this virus of the mind. The more I studied Wilson’s book, the more I had the overwhelming impression that he was really onto something – i.e., that he was tracking the elusive footprints of wetiko – and that he had chosen the form of a fictional narrative to describe, circumscribe and elucidate the nature of this deadly mind virus that threatens us all. It is as if Wilson was waking up to the psychic parasites that were within not only himself, but all of humanity, and his activated unconscious was using the vehicle of the literary imagination to express this realization.
Oftentimes creative artists are the canaries in the coal-mine of humanity’s psyche, presciently giving communicable form to what is emerging within the collective unconscious of our species. Sometimes the work is so informed by the artist’s unconscious that the artists themselves aren’t consciously aware of what they are revealing. When an artist is bringing in something new, there are usually varying degrees of consciousness around what is coming through them, as their work is the result of a creative interaction between their conscious and unconscious minds.
I am so accustomed to writing about wetiko “non-fictionally,” that the idea of approaching it through the made-up medium of fiction, i.e., through creative art that isn’t as “serious” as nonfiction, opens up new orders of freedom within my soul. Wetiko can be likened to a “bug” that hampers the creative imagination – potentially even “killing” it, if it’s even possible to talk in such fatalistic terms about imagination – which is to say that it makes sense to use the creative imagination as a way of dealing with its imagination-killing effects.
In his book, Wilson’s main character – an archaeologist named Dr. Austin – is stunned to learn of the suicide of his friend and colleague, a psychologist named Karel Weissman. Austin’s astonishment is due to his feeling that Weissman “had not an atom of self-destruction in his composition. In every way, he was one of the least neurotic, best integrated men I had ever known.” In Austin’s words, “It was impossible. Such a man could never commit suicide.” In his shakily written suicide note, Weissman expressed his wish that Austin take charge of his scientific papers. Austin finds it curious that Weissman wanted Austin to be contactedimmediately after his death, wondering why the urgency and whether Weissman’s papers contained a clue regarding his friend’s suicide. And so the story begins.
When Dr. Austin began searching through his now deceased friend’s scientific papers, he was struck by the line, “It has been my conviction for several months now that the human race is being attacked by a sort of mind-cancer.” This sounds remarkably like the wetiko virus – which can be conceived to be a cancer of the psyche that slowly metastasizes, gradually subsuming all of the healthy parts of the psyche into itself to serve its nefarious agenda. Wetiko is a self-devouring operating system that leaves nothing untouched, ultimately killing its host as well as itself if it is not stopped.
At first Austin wasn’t taking Weissman’s idea literally, but as he read on, he realized that his friend was not speaking metaphorically, but rather, was quite serious. In reading Weissman’s extensive “cultural history” of the last couple hundred years, it became clear to Austin that Weissman was of the opinion that our species had fallen into an age of darkness, and felt that some sort of darker force had insinuated itself into humanity’s mind. Upon initially encountering Weissman’s seemingly paranoid and conspiratorial line of thinking, Austin’s knee-jerk reaction was to assume that his brilliant friend had gone truly insane. After reading Weissman’s carefully reasoned analysis, however, Austin began to wonder if maybe his friend wasn’t crazy after all, but rather, had actually stumbled onto something really profound. Feeling that he would remember this day for the rest of his life, in Austin’s words, “If Karel Weissman was not insane, the human race confronted the greatest danger in its history.”
Continuing to read his friend’s papers, it became clear that Weissman had been doing an exploration inside of his own mind, and he was beginning to realize that there was something “alien” – an “autonomous other” – living inside of him that appeared to have its own independent will that was resisting his inner investigations. To quote Weissman, “I became aware that certain inner forceswere resisting my researches;” it was as if these inner forces didn’t want to be illumined. This wasn’t a passive form of resistance; whatever these inner forces were, they were involved in active resistance, as if being discovered was their worst nightmare.
Relying on “ignorance to keep the human race in chains,” these negative forces not only feed off of our ignorance, they actively promote it. Weissman was beginning to realize that these inner forces were simultaneously feeding off, reinforcing and hiding within his unawareness, as if his psychic blind-spots were the open doorway through which these forces insinuated themselves into his psyche. Weissman wrote, “I knew why it was so important to them that no one should suspect their existence. Man possesses more than enough power to destroy them all. But so long as he is unaware of them, they can feed on him, like vampires, sucking away his energy.”
The more Wilson’s creative fantasy unfolded on the pages of his novel, the more my ears perked up – I began thinking, “here is a man after my own heart” – as I recognized that he was pointing at wetiko, which is a vampiric bug that operates within our psyche in a clandestine way, draining our life-force in the process. In Wilson’s novel, Weissman, as if passing on a precious gift to his friend, was transmitting what he had stumbled upon to Austin, who, once he realized what Weissman had discovered, continued his deceased friend’s investigations by following in his footsteps. Descending into the depths of his own mind, Austin wound up corroborating what Weissman was insistently pointing at by having his own direct experiences of the seemingly “alien” forces that had now taken up residence in his own mind.
In reading Weissman’s papers, Austin – and the reader – are becoming aware that Weissman was making an epochal discovery. Speaking about the mind parasites, Austin writes that “they had also established themselves at a deep level of the human psyche, where they could ‘drink’ the energies that human beings draw from their wellspring of vitality.” The main channel through which these vampires work is consciousness, or more specifically, our lack thereof. It was vital for these vampiric-like entities to keep us in ignorance of their existence, for once we began to wake up to their covert operations within our minds, their gig is up, as they would then have no power over us. Weissman wrote, “Once a race becomes aware of these vampires, the battle is already half won.”
These darker forces will do everything in their power to avoid being “outed,” including trying to inspire the person who is onto them to turn self-destructively on themselves in suicide. When someone gets close to illuminating these darker forces, they can obscure the person’s connection to their intrinsic life-affirming creativity so that their creative life-force turns against itself and gets acted out self-destructively, potentially even resulting, in extreme cases, in suicide. This puts Weissman’s suicide in a deeper context, as his act of self-destruction becomes more comprehensible once we see what he was in the process of exposing. Getting closer to the light within ourselves simultaneously illumines these vampiric forces and catalyzes them, as being illumined is their worst nightmare, which is to say that the closer we get to the light, the more fearsome the forces of darkness can appear.
This can help us to understand the known psychological fact that the greatest danger for suicide is right before someone is going to have a breakthrough. Demons typically make their worst stink right before they are vanquished. This understanding can also help us to re-contextualize when we experience seemingly darker forces getting evoked in our mind-streams. For example, when we feel “attacked” by what seem to be the darker forces of the psyche, instead of interpreting this as evidence confirming how screwed up we are, we can realize that this is an expression that we are getting closer to the light within ourselves; shadows are not merely the absence of light, but are also an expression of its presence. In other words, the more light there is, the more the darkness becomes activated and visible. Since the darker forces want to derail us from our path, we can learn to understand that their manifestation is a reflection of exactly the opposite – that we are on our right path. We tend to think of illumination as “seeing the light,” but “seeing the darkness” is also a form of illumination.
Weissman writes, “What I had discovered was, of course, so fantastic that it could not be grasped by the unprepared mind.” What Weissman had stumbled onto – that there were negative forces in-forming and shaping humanity’s mind so as to compel us to unconsciously act out their agenda, all the while hiding themselves from being seen, sounded crazy, absolutely crazy, to people who subscribe to the agreed-upon consensus reality – which unfortunately, is most of humanity. Weissman’s realization was too much for the “unprepared mind” to take in; what he was pointing at creates too much of a shock – is too traumatic – for most people. Weissman was realizing that if our species continued to stay asleep to what was actually happening, that these negative forces could potentially destroy our species. He wrote, “In some way, the human race has to be made aware of its danger.”
Reflecting on the position he found himself in as he tried to communicate his discovery to others, Weissman writes that it is “more probable that people would simply dismiss me as insane.” For when someone has seen these mind-parasites, which is to be in touch with a deeper level of our basic sanity, to the ones still afflicted by and unconscious of these entities – i.e., the majority of our species – the one who is pointing out what is actually happening is typically seen as insane. I can totally relate to Weissman’s predicament; it is as if he is describing the situation I’ve found myself in for most of my life.
In his journal Weissman writes, “the human mind has been constantly a prey to these energy vampires. In a few cases, the vampires have been able completely to take over a human mind and use it for their own purposes.” These vampires can possess someone, who unwittingly becomes their secret agent – their secret being secret even to themselves – as they then become the channel through which these higher-dimensional forces actually enter into our third-dimensional reality and enact their seemingly counter-evolutionary agenda. The person so possessed – without being aware of their depraved circumstance in the slightest – becomes a marionette on a string, the human instrument for these nonhuman darker forces of deception to act themselves out in our world.
In taking over someone’s mind, these “deceivers” – members of “the un-dead” – replace it with a spurious simulation of their own dead and automated psyche, one devoid of creativity. The person so possessed identifies with this counterfeit version of themselves, assuming the mind they are experiencing is their own – while the truth is that what they then experience as themselves is anything but. Instead of being themselves, they become a duplicate of themselves, a master copy. The Bible itself points at this – referring to the mind parasites as theantimimon pneuma, the “counterfeiting spirit,” which is to say they impersonate us, with the hope that we identify with their false version of who we are. Interestingly, the revered Gnostic text Pistis Sophia claims that the antimimon pneuma has affixed itself to humanity like an illness.
Having our minds co-opted and taken over by these “energy vampires” can happen (in small or big ways) to anyone of us at any given moment in time – e.g., when any of us unconsciously acts out our unhealed abuse, indulges in our addictive behaviors, speaks falsely, or succumbs to “groupthink,” to use just a few examples. Here’s what I wrote in Dispelling Wetiko, “To the extent we are unconsciously possessed by the spirit of wetiko, it is as if a psychic parasite has taken over our brain and tricked us, its host, into thinking we are feeding and empowering ourselves while we are actually nourishing the parasite.” Not just capable of taking over an individual’s mind, these mind-parasites can operate through and possess a group, a nation, or even – potentially – to varying degrees, our entire species. Wetiko is, after all, a “collective” psychosis.
Most of humanity is being influenced by “hidden” (which is one of the meaning of the word “occult”) forces operating deep within our unconscious minds in ways that profoundly impoverish the quality of our awareness, all the while not having the slightest realization that this diminishment is even happening. These malevolent forces occlude us in such a way that our occlusion becomes self-perpetuating, the result being that we can’t even tell we are occluded. Once our mind is “programmed” – massaged into shape – by the mind parasites, we become more like automatons and zombies than creatively alive human beings. Speaking of people who have fallen under the thrall of these sinister forces, Austin comments that they “were moving mechanically – mere chess men in the hands of the mind parasites.” If we ask people in the grips of the mind parasites why they are acting out in the unconscious habitual way they are, they will often have a ready-made rationalization and justification. Their “cover-story” unknowingly serves the agenda of the mind parasites, as it camoflauges these sinister entities’ operations within their own minds so that they continue to remain ignorant of the source of their own impulses, thoughts, beliefs and actions.
Austin writes, “once a human being has been ‘conditioned’ by the mind parasites, he is like a clock that has been wound up; he only requires attention once every year or so. Besides, Weissman discovered human beings ‘condition’ one another, and save the parasites work.” This is similar to when there is an abusive agent in the family system, they typically just have to act out their violence only once – the mere possibility of them acting this out again gets across their message loud and clear and keeps the family “in line.” We then only occasionally need their attention to remind us of the threat we are living under, which becomes internalized within our own minds. Groups of people so conditioned can easily enact their inner state of fear and limitation in such a way that they police themselves, acting as their own control system – they then become complicit in keeping each other asleep. Anyone snapping out of the programming is seen as a threat by those still under its spell. Most people become so accustomed to their confinement – it seems “normal,” just the way things are – and not knowing anything different, they easily become complacent, satisfied and actually “happy” with their current state of limitation, confusing it with freedom, thinking they are simply being in touch with “the real world.”
In Austin’s words, humanity was struggling “as if in the grip of an invisible octopus.” Describing the multi-headed hydra quality of these darker forces, Austin comments that they are “something I can only compare to an immense, jelly-like octopus whose tentacles are separated from its body and can move about like individuals.” Austin was describing the nonlocal aspect of the tentacles – the arms – of wetiko, which, coming through different people or aspects of the environment, seem separated but are actually coordinated and connected parts of a greater “body” in which they are all contained and of which they are all expressions. To quote Austin, “I had been wrong to think of the parasites as separate beings.” There was one deeper energy – seemingly originating from a higher dimension than the merely physical – that was animating all of the multifarious manifestations of the mind parasites. In other words, something seemingly plural was actually singular in nature that, significantly, is to be found within our inner depths.
Weissman writes, “it is so important for the mind vampires to keep their presence unknown, to drain man’s lifeblood without his being aware of it. A man who defeats the mind vampires becomes doubly dangerous to them, for his forces of self-renewal have conquered. In such cases, the vampires probably attempt to destroy him in another way – by trying to influence other people against him.” Though appearing like he was having paranoid delusions, this statement by Weissman indicates that he had become aware of the nonlocal nature of the mind parasites, which is to say that – sounding totally “sci-fi” or crazy – these vampiric entities are not bound by the conventional laws of third-dimensional space and time.
From the sound of his writings, Weissman was beginning to realize that these mind parasites, not being a localized phenomena that could be pinned down, were a field phenomenon, and could only be seen – and dealt with – once recognized as such. Being a field phenomenon, the mind parasites existed in a realm that interfaced with and connected both the outside world and our minds. These entities simultaneously operate through our consciousness as well as being able to somehow configure the seemingly outer environment so as to enact themselves in embodied form as a way of accomplishing their agenda. They organize themselves – be it through creating inner or outer obstacles – so as to oppose any effort (including this very article) that brings attention to their stealth operations to larger circles of people.
It is important to know what we are up against; as the adage goes, “know your enemy.” If we do manage to connect with the light within ourselves and try to share our light with others, these nonlocal vampiric entities (what I have in previous writings called “nonlocal demons,” or NLD for short), will try, via their “connections” to the nonlocal field, to stop us by influencing other people to turn against us. Austin writes, “they [the mind parasites] knew how to use other men against us, and this was the real danger.” When someone begins to wake up, it is as if the forces of darkness, through the “control system” built into society and its institutionalized structures – which have become internalized within people’s minds – becomes alerted and mobilized in such a way as to make sure the person who is becoming aware of the operations of these inner adversaries and beginning to remember who they are gets taken back down, silenced, and put back to sleep. The mind parasites are able to “draft” unsuspecting others to become portals through which these forces can exert their influence into our world so as to seduce, distract or obstruct us from our path. People who are asleep to these nefarious forces unknowingly become enlisted to be the zombie-like foot-soldiers of the mind parasites, unwittingly serving their agenda of making sure no one steps out of line.
I wonder how many people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses – who oftentimes complain of feeling strange alien energies living inside of their own mind trying to control them – are actually having inchoate experiences of the mind parasites, but haven’t developed enough fluency or awareness to be able to deal with their situation. Well-meaning psychiatrists then pathologize and medicate them – all for their own good – but might these psychiatrists be the unwitting instruments through which the mind parasites are able to carry out their dirty work?
As the drama unfolds, at a press conference in which Dr. Austin was trying to alert the world to the danger it faced, he said, “Our aim today is to warn the people of the earth about a greater menace than they have ever faced…. These forces are more dangerous than any yet known to the human race because they are invisible, and are capable of attacking the human mind directly. They are able to destroy the sanity of any individual they attack, and to cause suicide. They are also capable of enslaving certain individuals and of using them for their own purposes.” It gets my attention that the very situation that Wilson is describing through his fictional narrative is actually getting mirrored by the deeper process that is currently playing out in our world – darker forces, covertly operating in the shadows, attempting to enslave humanity. This isn’t a paranoid conspiracy theory, but is hidden in plain sight, visible to all who have developed the (inner) eyes to see. Weissman continues, “their [the mind parasites’] role is to take over a man’s mind, and to cause him to become an enemy of life and of the human race.”
Weissman wrote, “Now I suspect that these mind vampires specialize in finding races who have almost reached this point of evolution, who are on the brink of achieving a new power, and then feeding on them until they have destroyed them.” In addition to the weak and defenseless, these psychic vampires seek out people who are on the verge of a quantum, evolutionary leap in consciousness, but have not yet fully integrated their realizations and stabilized themselves in the higher, more coherent level of consciousness that they are beginning to access. These individuals are in an energetically sensitive and “charged” condition, and their openness and vulnerability invites these vampiric entities to gorge on the light of their prey’s expanding awareness, thereby preventing them from having enough energy to evolve to a higher level of consciousness. Like moths attracted to the light of a flame, these darker forces are particularly attracted to people who are actively engaged in consciousness raising activities, seeking truth, and speaking out about it with the intention of helping to awaken others.
Continuing his articulation of these mind parasites, Weissman continues, “It is not their actual intention to destroy – because once they have done this, they are forced to seek another host. Their intention is to feed for as long as possible on the tremendous energies generated by the evolutionary struggle.” This sounds so similar to what I wrote in Dispelling Wetiko, “It [wetiko, i.e., the mind parasites] doesn’t want to kill us too quickly, however, for to successfully implement its agenda of reproducing and propagating itself throughout the field, it must let the host live long enough to spread the virus. If the host dies too soon, the bug would be prematurely evicted and would suffer the inconvenience of having to find a new residence.”
As he was beginning to realize the intent of these mind parasites, Weissman continues, “Their purpose, therefore, is to prevent man from discovering the worlds inside himself, to keep his attention directed outwards.” The strategy of these predators is to distract us so as to keep our attention directed outside of ourselves, thereby stopping us from finding and utilizing the immense light of intrinsic awareness within ourselves, which would “kill” the vampires by rendering them impotent. Wetiko is only able to flourish when we are in “object-referral,” focusing our attention on the outside world – thinking the problem is outside of ourselves – as compared to when we are in “self-referral” (i.e., self-reflection), in touch with our immense creative power as observer/participants to shape our experience of both the world and ourselves.
Austin writes that “their chief power seems to lie in their ability to unbalance the mind.” Either creating or feeding off of the natural potentiality of the psyche for dissociation, it is as if the mind parasites split the mind and compel a one-sidedness where we lose touch with our intrinsic wholeness and the full spectrum of possibilities that are always available to us. Inspiring and then feeding off of the resultant polarization, the mind parasites exploit, take advantage of, piggyback on and encourage people’s unconscious tendency to project their shadow outside of themselves. To quote Austin, the mind parasites “keep man looking for his enemies outside himself.” As long as we seek the enemy outside of ourselves, our true adversary, who lives inside of our heart and is the very sponsor of our projection, gets off scot-free.
Austin continues, “the chief weapon of the parasites was a kind of ‘mind-jamming device’ that could be loosely compared to a radar-jamming device.” It was when the mind parasites knew a person was “onto them” that they would use whatever measures were at their disposal to obfuscate themselves so as to keep their covert operations hidden. Austin writes, “The parasites had always used this ‘obstructing’ method against the human race – deliberately distracting the mind when it begins to get to grips with its own secrets.” Interestingly, in the highest spiritual teachings, the one and only instruction is to not get distracted from recognizing and abiding in the true open-ended nature of our awareness.
Whenever anyone would get too close to discovering their ploy, these parasitic entities would try – through their connections to the person’s unconscious mind – to disorient them, diverting them from their path. For example, as we are on the verge of having a transformative and elusive insight, we might get distracted and fail to write it down, thereby not anchoring it to consciousness, and then afterwards forget – and lose – what we had realized. Or we might find ourselves, as we get close to seeing the covert psychological operations of the mind parasites, experiencing our unhealed trauma getting re-evoked, making us feel anxious or afraid. Or, as we begin to see through the subterfuge of these mind parasites, we might start feeling a lot of pain, which can easily cause us to dis-associate (i.e., split), resulting in moving away from our discovery of the mind parasites. Or we might suddenly have an overwhelming impulse to eat, or drink, or go for a walk – anything that would take us away from being present with what is happening in that moment. Or, as we begin to discover the light within ourselves, instead of cultivating an ever-deepening relationship with the radiance we find within, we might fall for the ruse of the mind parasites and identify with the light instead, becoming inflated and grandiose, thinking we are someone special. The mind parasites are masters of deception, tricksters par excellence. Though this can sound like the ravings of a paranoid madman, it is actually the opposite – a clear-sighted articulation of what we are up against.
In Weissman’s writings, it was becoming clear to him that these mind parasites weren’t just messing with individual people’s minds, but were wreaking havoc through the collective unconsciousness of our species, a process that was playing out en masse in the world theater. He wrote, “I think there can be no possible doubt that the wars of the twentieth century are a deliberate contrivance of these vampires.” It is as if “the beast” of war is a virulent collective incarnation – in living (and dying) flesh and blood – of these mind parasites writ large on the world stage. If we look at the state of the world today, once we cultivate the eyes to see these psychic vampires, we notice their influence everywhere throughout our planetary “culture” (or lack thereof).
Through his deepening insight into the depth of the darkness that was animating these mind parasites, Weissman was also beginning to realize, as becomes clear through studying his writings, that there was a hidden gift encoded in these nefarious entities. He writes that “the mind vampires are, without intending it, the instruments of some higher force. They may, of course, succeed in destroying any race that becomes their host. But if, by any chance, the race should become aware of the danger, the result is bound to be the exact opposite of what is intended.” This brings to mind Goethe’s masterpiece Faust, in which Faust asks Mephistopheles (who represents the devil) who he is, and Mephistopheles replies that he is the “part of that force which would do evil, yet forever works the good.” The idea is that encoded in the darkness is actually a force that would potentially serve the light, if only it is recognized as such. Weissman writes, “The vampires might serve, therefore, to inoculate man against his own indifference and laziness.” The mind parasites/wetiko literally demand that we step into our power and become resistant and immune to their deception, trickery and oppression such that we discover how to step out of bondage and become free – or else!
The mind parasites are “quantum” entities, which is to say they are in a superposition of states – containing both the deepest evil and/or the highest good. On one hand, it is as if these mind parasites are obstructing us from experiencing our true nature. And yet, if recognized as such, these mind parasites could potentially help us to discover the very light they are obscuring. They are true guardians of the threshold of our evolution. How they actually manifest depends upon whether we recognize and how we interpret what they are revealing to us.
The mind parasites/wetiko’s appearance on the scene is in some mysterious way related to humanity waking up to its true nature as divinely-inspired creative beings. These seemingly darker forces are obscuring this nature, while at the same time their deadly challenge is the very thing that is, paradoxically, helping us to discover, wake up to and connect with our true nature. For if humanity were to break free and withdraw its fixation on outward appearances and connect with the universe within, to quote Weissman, “He would suddenly realize that he possesses inner-powers that make the hydrogen bomb seem a mere candle.”
In a very real sense, these mind parasites “cure” us of our wrong attitude towards both the world as well as ourselves. Instead of a typical virus mutating so as to become resistant to our attempts to heal it, the wetiko virus forces us to mutate relative to it. It is as though the evil of wetiko is itself the instrument of a higher intelligence. This higher power, through the revelation and understanding of wetiko, connects us to a sacred, creative source within ourselves that makes “the hydrogen bomb seem a mere candle.” In Dispelling Wetiko I write, “The wetiko bug is the greatest catalytic force of evolution ever known – as well as not known – to humanity.”
Sometimes we have to try to imagine what’s happening in order to gain access to reality. By creating a made-up fantasy world, it is as if Wilson, like the proverbial figure of “the fool” in the King’s Court, is “making light” of what is actually taking place as a way of getting the word out and telling the truth. Telling his story as if it’s fiction – i.e., not true – enables Wilson to break the taboo against speaking the truth in a world where to do so is fraught with peril, even criminalized. Sharing his tale as if it’s merely a fictional product of his creative imagination skillfully allows him to bypass the flaming editorial swords of the gatekeepers of consensus reality with a liberating knowledge that would ordinarily – if put out as a factual warning to humanity – be seen as disruptive and taboo from the point of view of the powers-that-be.
Ironically, if what Wilson is saying is true – i.e., that malevolent forces have infiltrated both our world and our minds – by presenting this information as if it’s merely fiction, he’s protecting himself from a retributive attack from the very mind parasites that he’s pretending only exist in his fantasy novel. As if a member of a timeless underground resistance movement, Wilson has managed to sneak in “living information” into a world that is unknowingly imprisoned and in desperate need of exactly such knowledge. Interestingly, while writing this article, I felt the mind parasites doing everything they can to stop me from getting this information out. Maybe, of course, this is only my overly activated imagination. In any case, I can easily feel like I am living in Colin Wilson’s mind parasites novel.
The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson is a beautiful and powerful example of someone giving themselves creative license to express an aspect of our experience that – because it operates in the shadows of the psyche – usually goes unrecognized and easily becomes marginalized. The idea of mind parasites invading both our world and our mind sounds completely and utterly crazy, but sometimes an idea is so crazy that it just might be right.
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father (Awaken in the Dream Publishing, 2015), Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013) and The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis (Authorhouse, 2006). He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon, and facilitates a number of “Awakening in the Dream Groups” every week, in which people who are awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality come together in a way that helps everyone deepen and stabilize their lucidity. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. He is the coordinator for the Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center. Please visit Paul’s website www.awakeninthedream.com. You can contact Paul at ; he looks forward to your reflections.
A handsome lad he was.
Wilson in 1956, not looking so serious
The British writer Colin Wilson published his best-selling first book, The Outsider, when he was just 24. A work of existential philosophy about the role of the misfit artist in the modern world, it seems not far removed from the concerns of some of Lovecraft's stories, particularly the one with the same title.
In his preface to The Mind Parasites, Wilson talks about his first experience reading Lovecraft and how much it affected him, obsessing not only over the fiction but also Lovecraft's life. He states he intended this novel to be a tongue in cheek and affectionate tribute to the Providence gentleman but I don't, however, think that Wilson knows just what "tongue in cheek" and "affectionate" mean: a more dour and self-serious piece of fiction I have not read for this blog!
At first I was intrigued as the story built up slowly, with all the kinds of faux-scholarship that one finds in Lovecraftian fiction. The unexpected suicide of the narrator's old colleague sets everything off, of course. This narrator, archaeologist Gilbert Austin, then discovers mysterious remains of a huge, heretofore unknown civilization two miles beneath the surface of the earth; yes, it seems Lovecraft's tales were based on fact, "discovered" by the "racial consciousness" of which Carl Jung wrote. This leads Austin and a fellow investigator to suspect the existence of a malevolent race of entities who seek to undermine man's free will and natural "evolution." But as the philosophical concerns began to make themselves more and more present and long-winded, I was distracted by Wilson's know-it-all superior tone. Much of Mind Parasites is a pompous bore, stuffy and fairly pretentious; a stereotype of the intellectual Englishman enamored of his own thought processes and insights.
Arkham House first edition, 1967
Austin - an obvious stand-in for the Wilson himself, if one looks at Wilson's other writings - is nearly obsessed with those "superhuman geniuses" that have blessed mankind with their existence: fuddy-duddy cultural folks like Goethe, Mozart, Nietzsche, Shaw, Wordsworth, and other musty white dudes (always white, always dudes) from the dark ages who the narrator sees as life-affirming artistic forces. But sometime after the 1800s these parasites gained control of men's minds and forced on them triviality and boredom and submission to base appetites, producing folks like de Sade and Hitler as well as making the average person a total loser too.
The parasites of the title are an ancient vampiric alien race, the Tsathogguans, who reside not in the depths of the sea or on the plains of Leng but in our very minds, feeding on us as a cancer and bending human history to their will. As a metaphor for the neuroses and fears that prevent humanity from living up to its own potential - or at least certain individuals from doing so - it isn't bad; it is just too obvious that Wilson has made Lovecraftian lore a vehicle for his own intellectual pet projects. This gets tiresome fast, and there is no irony or charm here to mitigate this high-mindedness:
- “The sheer size of the task overawed us. Yet it did not depress us. No scientist could be depressed at the prospect of endless discovery… we found ourselves looking at the people around us with a kind of god-like pity. They were all so preoccupied with their petty worries, all enmeshed in their personal little daydreams, while we at last were grappling with reality - the one true reality, that of the evolution of the mind.”
Oneiric Press edition, 1972
This my be overly critical but I also found Wilson lacking in imagination in the science-fiction department: in his future world of the early 2000s (!) he imagines still playing records on gramophones, calling the British Museum itself to look up simple facts about a previously unfamiliar American writer named Lovecraft, and reading the evening paper. Yeah, I know, that's not really Wilson's job here to completely re-imagine the future like a Clarke or a Gibson but I certainly found it off-putting and dated. Writing a Lovecraftian tale was not something Wilson had even entertained until August Derleth himself suggested it in their correspondence.
If you know anything about the literary avant garde of the 1960s you might find Mind Parasites to your liking; the (half-baked?) ideas of Aldous Huxley, Wilhelm Reich, William Burroughs, and other like-minded writers are referenced, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely (surely the author described as having "a high reputation among the avant garde for his curious blend of sadomasochism, science fiction, and world-weary pessimism" could be none other than Burroughs). The whole concept of psychedelic drugs and mind expansion plays a part in the novel, which interested me for about 10 minutes when I was 20 but I admit no specific concern in that area today. Throw in psychokinesis, or "PK energy," and I'm tuning right out.
Yes, all this is pretty heady stuff for a simple horror fiction read; its impetus may have been Lovecraft but the style reminds me more of H.G. Wells, while the appropriately "cyclopean" cover art (Bantam 1968), despite the spaceman, appealed to my love of vintage SF imagery. Less a straight horror novel than science fiction philosophy of an immature and cranky sort, its relationship to the Cthulhu mythos might make The Mind Parasites of some interest to completist Lovecraft fans, but the general horror reader can probably pass.
The strange and inexplicable suicide of Karel Weissman and the discovery of a gigantic city some two miles beneath earth combine to provide narrator Gilbert Austin with the beginnings of a weird tale of inner beings and some ultimate threats to human existence and advancement. Among many odd details of Weissman’s suicide is a note indicating that Austin should receive his papers immediately. Austin is justly curious as to what is there, but it ends up taking him many months to discover Weissman’s secrets. In the meantime Austin teams with Wolfgang Reich and these two archeologists add to Weissman’s work in psychology to unearth the world of the mind parasites.
Colin Wilson’s challenging and entertaining novel is both a sci-fi romp into the improbable, but a philosophical tour de force of the existentialist problem of authenticity. I was fascinated and disappointed by turns, but couldn’t stop turning pages, often amused by what was going on and at times frustrated, almost angry at Wilson for letting us humans off so easily. There is a bit of a surprise ending, so I will leave these comments somewhat incomplete and not fully rounded to Wilson’s tale. I don’t want to ruin someone else’s read.
Weissman’s journals and the world of Gilbert and Reich discover the existence of these mind parasites; beings living deep in each individual psyche and limiting the human exercise of the mind. In some way that never becomes fully clear the mind parasites sponge off human energy and were the humans to exercise full clear control over their own minds they would know the mind parasites were there and would defeat them, driving them out, which Gilbert and Reich eventually set out to do. However, as it exists now (the setting of the novel is the year 2012 and the book was written in 1967), the human is only able to use a tiny tiny fraction of the power of the mind, being inhibited by these parasites.
For those familiar with the movement of existential philosophy this is the problem which Martin Heidegger first made famous with his 1927 work BEING AND TIME and in 1942 Jean-Paul Sartre approached it from a slightly different perspective in BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. Wilson is quite aware of these works and has even written a work on “New Existentialism” a movement of which he is a self-named member. In the work of the existentialists there are no hidden beings. Rather, humans, on Heidegger’s account because of basic laziness and lack of intellectual skill, do not take hold of their own lives, examining the meaning of existence and making their own choices. Rather, the strong tendency is for humans to act out of habit, tradition, learned behaviors of our families and cultures, from religion and various other modes, all of which evade the personal human responsibility for our own choices. The existentialists generally unveil this hidden mode of what they label as “inauthentic” living and urge humans forward to take control of their own lives in an “authentic” personal responsibility. Not all thinkers are convinced that all humans can or will actually do this. Fyodor Dostoevsky the mid-19th century novelist and early existentialist has argued powerfully that the great mass of humans will never take such responsibility and the world is divided into the tiny minority of people who will take responsibility for themselves and others and in so doing will disburden the rest of the masses who much prefer to turn over this personal responsibility for security and evading the terror and hard work involved with it.
Given that Wilson and I share a common background of deep commitment to and interest in the existentialists, and both of us clearly share the notion of authenticity as a human virtue to be aimed at, I was in great measure saddened, even disgusted by his device of using the mind parasites to account for this phenomenon of humans not taking full personal responsibility for their own minds. In the contemporary literature there are a number of theories which most of us are aware of which explain this human lapse from taking full conscious responsibility for ourselves:
- The existentialist analysis I mention above.
- The Freudian view that the human unconscious is responsible for much of our action.
- The common view especially of our own time that we are fixed by our past and our very early learning and are virtual slaves to our upbringing, and if not fully incapable of acting freely and responsibly on our own, then we are at least deeply limited by our past.
What frustrated me in Wilson’s analysis with the mind parasites is that the entire notion of the mind parasites brings in outside beings who are the responsible agents and not us humans. This seems a complete caving into the notion that humans are either not capable of human freedom and responsibility, or at least drastically limited.
But, one can certainly view the fight of Austin and Reich to lead humans to defeat the mind parasites and reclaim their minds as an exercise in authenticity.
Once we get to the TOOLS to be used to fight the mind parasites I simply burst out laughing aloud. When the existentialist movement came into the intellectual world in the earliest days of the 20th century Heidegger, Sartre and other were deeply influenced by the work of Edmund Husserl, the developer of the method of inquiry called Phenomenology. So are Austin and Reich and they decide that the only “scientific” tools capable of combating the mind parasites are the principles and practices of Husserlian Phenomenology. This had me alternating between giggles and out right belly laughs as I recalled back my graduate school days of the 1960s when I struggled under the guidance of Professor Herbert Spiegelberg to grasp the extremely difficult and esoteric moves of Husserlian Phenomenology. Here we have a novelist instructing us readers in Phenomenology so we can follow the path of Austin and Reich as they begin to enlist other scientists in the upcoming Phenomenological war against the mind parasites.
At least Wilson had the common sense to know he could not really instruct us readers in the details of Phenomenological analysis so we get the window dressing without the details. But after living some 36 years as a professor wedded to Phenomenology as a philosophical method, knowing it was far from being a popular or dominant school of thought in the modern American intellectual world and seeing how difficult it was over the years for me to teach even the most basic rudiments of the method to undergraduates, I felt vindicated to see Colin Wilson saving the whole of human kind with Husserl’s theories!!!
However, at this point the novel does spin off into some rather wild sci-fi fiction. Austin and Reich and another few dozen of their disciples use their Phenomenology (a form of it I never saw in Husserl!) to learn psycho-kinesis and other tools of the occult and the mind parasites are soon on the ropes.
What will not ruin anyone’s read is to realize that the humans sort of do defeat the mind parasites in the end, but even that is a bit confused. Wilson seems torn between defeating these foreign beings and in sticking to the Dostoyevskian notion that most humans are hopeless and will never embrace freedom and responsibility for their own lives with all the hard work which that implies.
I have never been a strong fan of sci-fi type novels. There are often exciting logics of alternative worlds that don’t operate by the rules of our world, and that is fun and challenging. Yet, as occurs in Wilson’s novel, there are often inconsistencies which are glossed over in the telling, but, if one has a nagging and rather compulsive sense of logic and consistency which I seem to have, then such inconsistencies are bothersome. Such inconsistency is central to this work since Wilson never fully makes up his mind if the mind parasites are actually independent beings which are tied to humans in a symbiotic necessity, or if they really don’t exist at all, but are a trick of our own minds. At times the logic of the story flows in one direction and at other times in the other, and these are flatly contradictory. Given that actual physical events of this psycho-kinetic war take place against the mind parasites in some parts of the novel, he is strongly committed to their actual independent existence. Thus, when later in the novel the author seems to switch gears to deny all this, the logic of the work is in deep question.
I’ve limited my remarks to the centrality of the battle with the mind parasites and the critical role of Husserlian Phenomenology in this battle. That is quite fair to the novel. Yet two other themes come out here and there throughout the novel, and though they aren’t developed in detail and thus leave little for me to say about them, there is enough mentioned of them to intrigue. These are Carl Jung’s notion of a collective unconsciousness which is itself something beyond the sum of individual consciousnesses of each of us, and the evolutionary work of the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin who also saw evolution moving beyond the individual human as the central “entity” of humanity and pointed toward a notion of cultural consciousness as an independent existence. I wish Wilson had developed those themes. They are fascinating speculations.
Colin Wilson is a learned man and fills this novel with references to various philosophers, psychologists and natural scientists in such a way that one can’t help but be impressed with the breadth of his knowledge. The Mind Parasites is a very fun book to read and philosophically challenging to boot. I recommend the book to all serious readers.
It is difficult to say who I am. I tend to be a philosopher who doesn't think we "are," but are "becoming." Nonetheless I have done certain things and follow certain fairly regular patterns of living, doing so at times for long periods of my life. Certainly in the everyday sense of language, those things are who I am. But even there, I experience contradictions, like virtually every one else. I "am" this Bob Corbett for some period of time, but only mainly so, and at times I don't live and act that particular Bob Corbett. At other times I am in transition between an "old" Bob Corbett and a "new" Bob Corbett in some regard.
Thus, with some fear and trepidation of being misunderstood as too fixed, below is a bit of who I have been (mainly), and what directions and tendencies I'm traveling in as I continue to create the Bob Corbett who will only really BE Bob Corbett after I am no longer he! This portrait is highly censored for this public medium. I have fuller details. Some I edit out as less essential. Others I edit out as too private (perhaps too unflattering). Thus a certain falseness creeps in.
I am a native St. Louisan, of Irish ancestry. I was raised a Roman Catholic, attended Catholic elementary and secondary school, entered the seminary and spent my undergraduate days studying to be a priest. In 1961 I left the seminary, and shortly there after left the Roman Catholic Church and religion in general. Since about 1963-64 I have been a practicing atheist. What is a practicing atheist? One who lives and acts as though there were no God. The concept of a supreme being of any kind doesn't enter into my life one iota. I am not, however, one of those folks who left a conservative Roman Catholicism with anger or bad feelings. I loved those days and was enamored of ceremony and the sense of community. I even regret the loss. My change of being was not out of a sense of disappointment or resentment. Rather, I just discovered I didn't believe that a God exists, and I wasn't interested in the loss of individual liberty that would follow from a hierarchical structure in which I no longer believed. Added May 2010: Nor since the early 1960s have I belived in the concept of an afterlife.
I married in 1962 and my wife and I moved to the Bahama Islands where we taught in a small school as volunteer service work for the Roman Catholic bishop of the Bahamas. We had met taking the Peace Corps exam the very first time it was ever given in St. Louis in 1961. Our first two (of 7) children were born during our stay in the Bahamas.
In 1964 we returned to the U.S. to St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota where I taught for one year before coming to Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1965.
We had sons born in 1963-64-65-66. Then daughters born in 1967 and 1970, and our youngest child, now 23, born in 1975. Raising the children was one of the most exciting, challenging and delightful tasks of my whole life.
In 1972-73 I took a sabbatical leave from Webster University and went to Austria to learn German and to study German philosophy, especially the work of Martin Heidegger, one of my favorite philosophers. I spent 13 fabulous months in Graz, Austria. Graz is a beautiful small city of about 250,000 people. It is the second largest city in Austria, after Vienna, but is not well known to Americans. It is a southern Austrian city, just near the Slovenian border. The much smaller tourist towns of Salzburg and Innsbruck are known to Americans. That year's experience began a life-long love affair with Austria, and I've been back there many times to teach.
Not only did the 1972 trip make me fall in love with Austria, but with all of Europe. I have traveled many times to Europe and traveled widely in Europe, especially enjoying trips to Budapest and Prague in Eastern Europe and one long trip to Warsaw with my younger daughter in 1989. Another of my very favorite cities is Paris, where I've been several times, including visits in two Decembers of recent years. Recently I made my first trips to Greece and Great Britain, enjoying both of them a great deal.
In the summer of 1983 I had a spectacular chance to spend most of the summer in the Arabian Peninsula as guest of some of Webster University's Arabian students. I visited Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia among other interesting places, but never fell in love with the Middle East the way I have with other places.
Perhaps one of the most significant developments of my life also came in 1983 when I made my first visit to the country of Haiti. I went there to do some service work and fell completely in love with the country. Since then I have visited Haiti some 40 times, run a small program of development projects there, have founded my own private charity to house my work in Haiti and have spent a huge portion of my scholarly time in devotion to the study of Haiti. From 1984 to 1994 I published a magazine on things Haitian, and then in 1994 moved the whole scholarly work I do on Haiti to the internet where I run the most active mailing list or, for that matter, most active place of ANY sort on Haiti which is on the internet. I would certainly invite any of you to join that mailing list and see what goes on. But, by way of warning, you would be inundated with lots of mail, since I really post a lot of material to the mailing list of nearly 800 people, as many as 20 to 30 e-mails on a typical day.
One of the works I had been doing in Haiti since 1983 was taking groups of volunteer workers to Haiti to do service work and to experience this 3rd world country. However, in January 1994 we experienced a terrible tragedy and two of our volunteer workers, two young women from St. Louis, were killed in a bus accident. After that accident I cancelled the work trips to Haiti. The trips had great value, but I just wasn't up to that task any longer.
As I mentioned earlier, I founded a charity. It is called PEOPLE TO PEOPLE, INC. The main work is in Haiti, but it does have some smaller projects here in St. Louis with shelters and feeding centers. This is an all-volunteer charity and no one receives a salary to work in it. Since I am the president and far and away the most active volunteer, I needed more time in volunteer service. Thus, 10 years ago, when many of my children were raised and basically on their own, my wife and I decided that we would easily live on 1/2 my salary, so I gave up my tenured position for a 1/2 time position to free up more time for my volunteer service work. Much of my life had been lived in a modestly serious form of voluntary economic simplicity, but this choice changed that to a rather forced simplicity.
A different me had been slowly emerging in those years of parenting. It was probably there to be seen in the period, but I either never paid attention or just blocked it out. The upshot was a separation and divorce.
I moved back into Dogtown, the neighborhood of central west St. Louis where I was born and raised. I had lived here from my birth in 1939 until I was married in 1962. At this time in 1993 both my parents were ailing and in their last days. They lived here in Dogtown, and I wanted to be close to them. My mom died in 1993 and my dad in April of 1994. In 1995, at the support of my two younger brothers, I moved into my parents' home, along with my significant other. My oldest son eventually purchased the house and rented to my partner and me so I have a son as a landlord and it's working out well.
Now I spend my time running PEOPLE TO PEOPLE, INC., especially the enormous amount of time I spend on the internet doing education work about Haiti, teaching my classes at Webster University, reading more than ever before in my life, building a massive library on Haiti, enjoying my children and 11 grandchildren, rediscovering the neighborhood of my childhood, and developing my relationship with my new life partner. It's simply a great life.
I am FANTASTICALLY excited about teaching on the internet. I see this as the beginnings of a whole new direction of my life, and I will be working hard to learn how to use this tool to the best of my ability to enrich the experience of learning for my students. I try to offer at least one course on-line each semester and have been working lately to build up material for my new web page.
I am also interested in how educators can use the internet to offer free learning services to those who are interested (like the visitors to my courses). In the 1960s I worked with the free university movement, but it didn't come to much. This new technology has the opportunity to succeed where the free university movement failed. I want to be right in the thick of it!
I have been teaching philosophy at Webster University since 1965, so I have just finished my 34th year. This makes me about the second or third longest-term faculty members at the institution. I am semi-retired, having taken early 1/2-time retirement 10 years ago at the age of 50. Webster University has been a wonderful place to work, being incredibly supportive of whatever ideas or innovations I have wanted to make in teaching, curriculum and other ideas. It's simply a marvelous place to work.
As I said as the outset, I see my life as one of constant becoming and each present period as one of contradictions such that I AM not anything or anyone, but a person creating himself. Nonetheless, I do look back on my sixty years of living and see what I think are four different periods of my life where the period can be given a brief description.
From my birth until high school I lived the rather traditional life of a third generation child of an Irish Catholic immigrant family. We were working class, living in a sort of Irish ghetto in a home of genuine love, harmony, fun and support. We never had a great deal materially, and my parents didn't even own a car until after I was in high school, but we never wanted for any basic material things and the home and extended family were filled with love and support.
My high school and college days were times of transition from an innocent, naïve and unquestioning childhood into a skeptical, self-directed adulthood. Awesome and scary times.
The period of my marriage and raising a family, a period of 31 years, were days of growth and dedication to several things at once:
- My family.
- Lots of volunteer service in the interest of those I thought were needing of my help.
- In the political sphere (anti-Vietnam war days, anti-Contra days, Civil Rights).
- In general, having to live a life of where the foreign and domestic policy of my own country was one of my worst enemies.
- And social sphere, volunteer work in the slums of St. Louis and later in Haiti.
At the same time there was my work at Webster University with special interests in Existential philosophy, philosophy for children and other areas of philosophy in practice.
Lastly, in this relatively new period of my life, I have turned more inward and less outward in every sense. I read more, think more, stay home more, though I have world connections daily via the internet. I see this as forward looking toward the 21st century. I am connected and active in a new kind of world. It is different from our historical models, and not well understood by me (or others for that matter). Yet it's exciting, engaging and meaningful. It's a place where I think I can make contributions as it creates me anew in the process.
Each of these periods of my life has shaped me. But not one of them "is" me. I'm all of them and my unknown future as well. Even inside any one of these periods I am also the contradictions to the main trends, and the smaller sidelines I leave out of the description.
It is fascinating meeting people who knew or know me mainly via ONE of these periods. For them I AM that Bob Corbett. When the Bob Corbett they know is mainly from one of the first three, they seem to hardly know me. Those who know me mainly in my current way to be in the world often don't know me in my earlier worlds and miss how essential those phases still are to who I am becoming.
I think similar patterns exist for each of us and others have to choose how much time, effort, energy and openness they're willing to invest in any given other. The easy way out is to fix the other as some objective defined person. But a story like mine, of fairly dramatic changes over time and important contradictions within any given period, is more the rule than the exception. I am and we all are people in the making. I often wonder who I will be ten or twenty years from now, if I even am. I so very much hope to be around to find out.
It has been 11 years since I wrote the above, and perhaps some of the most dramatic life changes – my continued “becoming” -- have occurred in those 11 years. One huge development is that I retired at the end of 2000, though I then went back to Vienna, Austria for the year of 2001 for a last “guest professor” appearance there. However, by January 1, 2002 I was fully retired, with fewer obligations on my time since I started kindergarten in 1944!!!
I controlled my own time fully. What was I to do and how to do it? In these past years I have drifted into a simply wonderful life, rich in meaning and joy. I loved my 36 years of teaching at the university and often thought it had to be the best way in the world to earn one’s living; perhaps, for me, it was. However, an even more rich and rewarding life has come to me in retirement where I do whatever it is I want with extremely few pressures on me to do the bidding of others. I really love it.
Additionally, as I moved back to the United States in 2002 my partner and I decided to end our relationship of 9 years and for the first time in my entire life I was living alone! I had gone from living with my parents on a Saturday morning in 1962 to living with my new wife that same day, then from my marriage to living with my new partner in 1993 on the same day. Now I was alone for the first time ever. That was quite a new and different experience.
While no longer teaching or in any way employed for payment, I still worked. I had already been active in doing Dogtown history, in doing volunteer work in the country of Haiti and doing a great deal of work on my web page on Haiti. I had recently begun my larger webpage and had fallen into the pattern of posting four or more book reviews each month, something I continue to this day. These activities kept me busy, and in February of 2002 I called a meeting to try to found a Dogtown Historical Society. Today the society is 8 years old and thriving. My younger brother is the president and I am the archivist and frequent contributor to new bits and pieces of Dogtown history work.
Ironically, I may well be working as much now without pay as when I worked for pay. The difference is that now I work at my own work, at my own pace (which is often accelerated) and for my own development.
When those meetings began to found the historical society, a woman came to the meetings who had never lived in Dogtown, but whose father had and whose grandparents lived here. She was doing family history work and thought that belonging to the society would advance her history work. It has done that, but in addition we have become partners since about 2004 or 2005 and our life is a happy one, simple but rich in activities, good conversation and friendship.
For a while we travelled a good deal in Europe and descriptions of those trips may be found in my travel writings. Now, we tend to think our travelling days are over. We saw lots, loved it, learned a lot, advanced our relationship in those years of travel, but now we are relative home bodies, no longer travelling abroad, and not even going out much at all. We are happy and comfortable at home.
In 2005 my former wife and I turned over our organization, People to People, Inc. to a new board of directors. Each of us continues to work in or for Haiti in our own way, but we weren’t using the organization much, so we thought it best to give the organization new life, and the new board has done that.
I have not been back to Haiti since 2004. My primary reasons for going into the country were two fold: to run a series of small development projects mainly in the rural areas and to lead group trips to Haiti for people to experience the country. In 1995 a terrible bus accident caused the life of two people who were in Haiti on one of our trips, and after that I just didn’t have it in me to lead those trips. And by 2004 I had had two new knees put in to my weary legs and the strenuousness of travelling to the country side to oversee projects was more than I could handle.
However, I have not ceased my interest in or work with Haiti. I continue to run a daily e-mail discussion forum on Haiti that has grown enormously, and my web page remains one of the largest existing pages on all sorts of Haitian topics.
A little over a year ago I had some serious renovation work and an addition put on to my home, which is the home my parents built when I was a child, and added a large front porch. I also have taken up cooking in a serious manner, so my partner and I eat in almost always, me cooking and she doing the kitchen cleaning, and we eat as many meals as weather permits on the new front porch, enjoying the meals and hours of conversation and visiting with passers-by.
Perhaps the major change in my “becoming” in this period of time has my sort of bowing out of work in the area of politics and public policy. As I had mentioned in my early essay from the time I was very young I was active in social and political movements. Since I am on the far political left, I was interested in movements for the improvement of social conditions for people of color, for women and for better treatment of the needy of our land and the world. I tended to be opposed to much of U.S. foregin policy in my life, other than aid to others in time of natural disasters. It has seemed to me that much of U.S. foreign policy is in defense of a system of capitalism which most serves the interests of the rich and powerful and not the mass of others on our planet and even those of us in the U.S. not in that political and economic elite.
However, I am no longer much active in those areas. In part I’ve just worn out, in part I’m a good deal discouraged by the current strong turn to the political right of our nation, in part I just think it is time that younger people step up to carry the burden of such movements. None of those are really very good reasons for opting out of a more active life of social responsibility, but I think it is an honest assessment of who I am becoming at this time.
Actually, despite the two new knees, and a mild stroke ten years ago, I am in very good health. A few years ago I was just moved to radically change my diet and exercising habits. I started my cooking, with emphasis on extremely healthy (but tasty) foods, buying from farmer’s markets and even growing some things. I walk a great deal, trying to do 4 to 5 miles a day as many days as I can. I don’t drive or own a car, so I have a little wire four-wheel cart and have grocery stores in two different directions from my home, each about a 2 mile one-way walk. Many of my walks are shopping expeditions for food. I live only four blocks from the huge St. Louis city park, Forest Park. I walk there often. One of my favorite sorts of walks is to take off from my home, walk some three-four mile route to a metro station and then spend a few hours riding the metro and buses in St. Louis while I read my current book. I enjoy the walking, the reading and busing around to different areas of St. Louis. Anytime I’m ready, I just hop off the bus, walk around whatever neighborhood I’m in and then catch the next bus coming along.
In sum, the process of becoming continues. I am 71 but still changing and choosing my own life. In fact the Bob Corbett of today is much more different from the Bob Corbett of ten years ago than at any ten year period of my life since I was a child. On the other hand, I sort of tend to think I’m settling into a limited pattern, but I might well have thought that back in 1999 when I posted the first piece of this story of the journey of my becoming. I have a fairly good idea of where and who I’ve been, and a comfortable notion to continue in the path of my current “becoming,” but I’m just not a finished product. The future beckons and I will struggle with it as best I can, hoping that I can be in charge; that I will choose my becoming and not just sit back and let circumstances or habit dictate.
For me my “becoming” should be as much as possible my own project. Of course I don’t control all the variables. Much about my health, especially as I age, will be beyond my control. The economy will have an impact on me, much of that will be out of my control (though having lived virtually my entire life without a cent of debt has been a great advantage). The “mood” of the country will impact me; and these current times just horrify and even frighten me with the nation’s move to the political right and the nasty tone of political discourse. The continued societal attack on the planet earth is much beyond my control as well.
Nonetheless, I will have my own responsibility and choices. I am extremely privileged to have as much control over my continuing journey as I do. I hope I will continue to find the courage to live my life as I wish to and want to, as much as I can within the limits of my power.
Regardless, as long as I live, I will continue to BECOME. The issue will be how much of that becoming will I have the courage and power to take control of consciously and thoughtfully, and how much of that becoming will just come to me from outside forces. It will be my struggle and hope that I can remain as much as possible at the center of my own becoming.
For sure my life is not one of all work and no play, and one of my more relaxing and enjoyable activities of pure pleasure is watching my backyard birds, and the birds over in near-by Forest Park. I have about 8-9 feeding stations in my back yard and have breakfast most mornings in front of a large picture window looking out over the back. I even keep records and normally have between 15-20 different bird types each day. My partner is a very fine photographer and has recorded many of our birds for others to see.
Lastly, I would describe the nature of my own view of life as an “existentialist” position. In my teaching years existentialism was my primary area of focus, study and teaching. Now, after some time away from the university, I am returning more and more to those ideas and texts, and have been putting down into print, as much for my self and my history as any other reason, my views about living life as an existentialist. Some of that material may be found here on my web page as well.
It is a much different Bob Corbett who has typed these notes in 2010 from the Bob Corbett who wrote the piece above in 1999. I would be satisfied to continue in this 2010 mode for years to come, but the way things go, the projection of age and health among them, my own restless and seeking nature, the freedom available to me . . . well I wouldn’t be surprised if yet another chapter of this journey of becoming may not be appended some time in the future. But for now, it is the task of getting on with today; with the journey I’m on, loving it, hanging on vigorously.
“The human race is being attacked by a sort of mind cancer. Something is sucking the human mind dry and has been sucking it for the past two hundred years.” That is the shattering discovery made by Professor Gilbert Austin. Who or what is responsible? Mind parasites, malignant beings who lurk in the deepest layers of the unconscious… (in precise physiological terms this would correspond to the back brain or hypothalamus) …sapping the very life force of mankind, cutting him off from his natural capacity for self renewal… It was all so unsettling that I broke the habit of a lifetime and drank a bottle of champagne at lunch time.
There is considerable inferential evidence to indicate the actual existence of such a parasitic instance as this book postulates. An Italian sociologist said if you want to get to the bottom of any situation that seems on the surface inexplicable ask yourself the simple question ‘who profits?’ Who would profit from blocking every basic discovery about the human mind? Techniques are now available to alter consciousness and effect the hypothalamus directly. In a recent Mayfair article I described the experiments of doctor Miller who has demonstrated that any mammal can learn to control such seemingly involuntary processes as brain waves, blood pressure, rate of heart beats, his whole state of mind and body. Doctor Miller had great difficulty in raising funds for his experiments. The importance of these experiments was completely missed by the press. The means are at hand to conquer inner space but they are not being used. Despite impressive technical advances the planet is still in the stone age psychologically. Who would profit from turning the clock all the way back to the stone age and keeping man out of space? A parasitic entity that lives in the human body and could not survive space. Only in the last two hundred years have technological advances made space exploration a possibility. By maintaining control of inner spacethe parasites can block any discovery or destroy anyone who suspects their existence. It is in fact unexplained suicides among scientists investigating inner space that leads to the discovery of the parasites by the narrator Professor Gilbert Austin. Once the presence of the parasites is inferred the means to combat them is obvious. They must be combated by the brain itself pushed up to and beyond its limits so that men can read each other’s thoughts, control their own thoughts and feelings. So they join battle with the parasites on equal terms. These are precisely the measures I have advocated in the Academy Series, measures that must be applied whether we believe in mind parasites or not if man is to expand his horizons and survive in the space age. There is no turning back to the false security of dogmatic creeds. To travel in space you must learn to leave the old verbal garbage behind: God talk, priest talk, mother talk, family talk, love talk, country talk, party talk. You must learn to exist with no religion, no country, no allies. You must learn to see what is in front of you with no preconceptions.
In Mr. Wilson’s narrative it is a space voyage that finally defeats the parasites. They cannot survive in space. As the space craft travels further and further from the earth the parasites, still lurking in the crew, are in a panic. “Now they felt their psychic links with the earth stretching and growing weaker and they were frightened. We now understood the nature of ‘space fever’ that had so far frustrated all men’s efforts to penetrate further into space.” Known, watched, the parasites became desperate. They now reveal themselves as creatures of a low intelligence floundering about like a beached squid. “It happened on the fourteenth day… Something infinitely evil and slimy was pushing its way from inside me. I realized I had been wrong to think of the parasites as separate beings. They were one, they were IT, an immense jelly like octopus whose tentacles are separate from its body and can move about like individuals.” (And this being is none other than the ancient slug Abhoth the Dark also known as Abhoth the Unclean)… “Now this infinitely vile thing was coming out of its lair and I could feel its hatred of me, a hatred so powerful and maniacal that it almost needs a new word. Then the inexpressible relief of knowing that it was gone…”
What has made this planet such a soft touch for Abhoth?… The greatest human limitation is that we are all tied to the present by an arbitrary identity, personal and national. What is identity? The identity of a shark is its teeth, its size, its ability to eat and digest almost anything. An oyster’s identity is its protective shell. Identity then is the means by which an organism protects and maintains itself in a hostile environment and all environments that contain such identities are hostile. And what is the identity of Abhoth the Dark? Its ability to remain hidden and carry on a parasitic existence that is hostile to its host by parasitic necessity. So we are all playing Abhoth’s game. And by setting one identity against another Abhoth maintains himself indefinitely.
Isolation from such an environment is the first step in the unexplored territory of inner space… As man loses touch with his inner being he finds himself trapped in the world of consciousness that is to say the world of other people. “Man is a political animal” said Aristotle telling one of the greatest lies in human history. For every man has more in common with the hills and with the stars than with other men. Other men do not supply our values. Other men do not matter in the way we have believed. Man is not alone. You could be the last man in the universe and you would not be alone.
This is William S. Burroughs’ review (Maynard & Miles C231) of a book by Colin Wilson called The Mind Parasites.
- It was published in the June 19, 1969 issue of Rat, a New York underground newspaper.
- The copyediting was very sloppy – the paper even mispelled Burroughs’ last name as “Borroughs” – so RealityStudio took the liberty of correcting several obvious solecisms, such as “it’s” for “its.”
- Thanks to Patrick C., who came across the text while doing some research, for transcribing and sending it in.
|The Mind Parasites © 1967 by Colin Wilson. New afterword by Colin Wilson © 2005, new preface by Gary Lachman © 2005.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the publisher except in
critical articles and reviews. Contact the publisher for information: Monkfish Book Publishing Company 22 Market Street. Rhinebeck, N.Y. 12572
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wilson, Colin, 1931-2013
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Monkfish Book Publishing Company
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The Mind Parasites | 8:23:16
Audible Studios presents The Mind Parasites.
The supernatural metaphysical cult thriller.
Written by Colin Wilson.
Narrated by Raphael Corkhill.
Mind Parasites, Energy Parasites and Vampires | 1:37:31
"Mind Parasites" has a fanciful sound to it like something contrived by an overwrought, paranoid imagination.
- The term was coined by British scholar of the occult Colin Wilson in his science fiction novel of ideas entitled The Mind Parasites, written in 1967.
The novel is alternately fascinating and silly, spinning out of control with over-caffeinated egomania, and much of the "science" in the science fiction would seem absurd to anyone who didn't sleep through their high school biology class.
In fairness, Colin Wilson intentionally wrote the book in a hallucinatory, Lovecraftian mode, and HP Lovecraft is actually mentioned throughout the book as a visionary who, in the feverish depths of his imagination, tapped into secrets of the collective unconscious.