Lectures 1 to 7 VRE #1

Chapter One (Lecture 1)

Religion and Neurology

            The researcher is in a similar position to James when, at the outset of his lectures which formed the basis of Varieties of Religious Experience (VER), he made the admission that “I am neither a theologian, nor a scholar learned in the history of religions, nor an anthropologist.” (James, 1928, p. 2). But while James was a psychologist, the researcher readily confesses to having no such disciplinary background. However, while James observed that “…the documents that will most concern us will be those of the men who were most accomplished in the religious life and best able to give an intelligible account of their ideas and motives.” (James, 1928, p. 3), as noted in the both the Introduction and Methodology chapter/s WILL IT BE ONE OR BOTH? the bulk of the qualitative data referred to in this study was drawn, for the most part, directly from the mouths, and in some instances, the pens of contemporary Australian Witches. It is also worth highlighting that while the majority of sources quoted by James are from ‘men who were most accomplished in the religious life’, James did also quote, and examine, the religious experiences of some prominent women. .GIVE EXAMPLE OF ST THERESA?

As James noted, the sources for his study were “…either comparatively modern writers, or else such earlier ones as have become religious classics.” (James, 1928, p. 3). He went on to refer to “…recent books on logic,” (James, 1928, p. 4) but did not specify which ones he was referring to. Again, he noted that “In recent books on logic, distinction is made between two orders of inquiry concerning anything. First, what is the nature of it? How did it come about? What is its’ constitution, origin, and history? And second, what is its’ importance, meaning, or significance, now that it is once here?” (James, 1928, p. 4). For James, the answer to one question was an existential judgement (or proposition), while the answer to the other was a proposition of value (or spiritual judgement) (James, 1928, p. 4). James was referring to the Bible but his point is indeed applicable to all other religious texts: “…of what use should such a volume…be to us as a guide to life and a revelation?” (James, 1928, pp. 4-5). James noted the three main spiritual judgements/values of the Bible as being:

  • Composed automatically; “…not by the free caprice of the writer,” (James, 1928, p. 5)
  • No scientific/historical errors
  • No local or personal  passions


According to James, by these values/criteria, the Bible is not reliable source material but if the Bible is, regardless of errors/passions, a “…deliberate human composition” (James, 1928, p. 5) and “…a true record of the inner experiences of the great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of their fate,” (James, 1928, p. 5) then the Bible can be viewed as a valuable record of spiritual experience.

James was aware of the controversial nature of what he proposed, and addressed his audience with “…some of you may think it a degradation of so sublime a subject, and may even suspect me, until my purpose gets more fully expressed, of deliberately seeking to discredit the religious side of life.” (James, 1928, p. 6). He was keen to clarify this was not his intention – though he did suggest that “There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a religious life, exclusively pursued, does tend to make the person exceptional and eccentric.” (James, 1928, p. 6). It should be clarified here that James was not referring to the average Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim “…who follows the conventional observances of his country,” (James, 1928, p. 6). It should also be noted that these faiths set the scope of James’ VRE – no ‘alterative’ faiths, such as Witchcraft, were considered in VRE, and so “We must search rather for the original experiences which were the pattern-setters to all this mass of suggested feeling and imitated contact. These experiences we can only find in individuals for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but as an acute fever rather.” (James, 1928, p. 6). AND THIS IS WHY QUALITATIVE DATA/INTERPRETIVE PHENOMENLOGY IS USED FOR THIS STUDY

            James identified such ‘exceptional and eccentric’ people as ‘geniuses’, and as Hutton notes Aleister Crowley as having “…had a direct and obvious influence upon modern pagan witchcraft…” (Hutton, 1999, p. 171) it would be remiss not to note that Crowley (Crowley, Desti, & Waddell, 2010, p. 8) also held such a view. James went on to note that “…such religious geniuses have often shown symptoms of nervous instability.” (James, 1928, p. 6), “…have been subject to abnormal psychical visitations.” (James, 1928, p. 6), and “Invariably they have been creatures of exalted emotional sensibility.” (James, 1928, p. 6).

“Often they have led a discordant inner life, and had melancholy during a part of their career. They have known no measure, been liable to obsessions and fixed ideas; and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard voices, seen visions, and presented all sorts of peculiarities which are ordinarily classed as pathological.” (James, 1928, p. 7). James also noted that “…these pathological features in their career have helped to give them their religious authority and influence.” (James, 1928, p. 7). MENTION ACCOUNTS OF LONG DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL AS PER INTERVIEWS?

Using George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as the Quakers) as an example, James assessed that Fox was a powerful character “Yet from the point of view of his nervous constitution, Fox was a psychopath…” (James, 1928, p. 7). James quoted extensively from Fox’s journal, with a particular focus on an entry where Fox has a vision of God instructing him to take off his shoes (in winter) and walk into Litchfield. Fox sees rivers and pools of blood everywhere, and he (Fox) wrote that “…I came to understand, that in the Emperor Diocletian’s time a thousand Christians were martyr’d in Litchfield.” (Fox in James, 1928, p. 8). Such was Fox’s interpretation of his vision, and James used this excerpt to demonstrate Fox’s mental instability.

James has then returned to address his audience’s suspicion that he was going to denigrate religion, where he wrote that “It is true that we instinctively recoil from seeing an object to which our emotions and affections are committed handled by the intellect as any other object is handled.” (James, 1928, p. 9), and he observed that “Such cold-blooded assimilations threaten, we think, to undo our soul’s vital secrets,” (James, 1928, p. 10). James went on to point out current thought (at least at the time of writing VER,) on the comparison of the religious urge with ‘perverted sexuality’ (James, 1928, p. 11) – though again, he did not give specific examples.. POSSIBLY REFERRING TO  FREUD? INVESTIGATE

            He dismissed the comparison with the suggestion that religiosity can equally be linked to food/drink: “Language drawn from eating and drinking is probably as common in religious literature as is language drawn from the sexual life.” (James, 1928, p. 11). THESE ANALOGIES CAN BE MADE WITH ANYTHING IF ONE PUTS THE EFFORT INTO IT!

            He dismissed the adolescent/sexual theory (interest in religion as stemming from puberty/adolescence) with: “One might then as well set up the thesis that the interest in mechanics, physics, chemistry, logic, philosophy, and sociology, which springs up during adolescent years along with that in poetry and religion, is also a perversion of the sexual instinct :- but that would be too absurd.” (James, 1928, p. 12). His logical conclusion was that “Medical materialism finishes up with Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Theresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate.” (James, 1928, p. 13). Again, there is agreement between James and Crowley on this point:: “Even if epilepsy were the cause of these great movements which have caused civilization after civilization to arise from barbarism, it would merely be an argument for cultivating epilepsy.” (Crowley et al., 2010, p. 9). Readers interested in the intersection between James and Crowley are referred to Pasi (2012).

James was also quick to point out that theories on diseased/dysfunctional organs causing the religious state could equally be applied to thoughts and feelings related to scientific theories/doctrines, so that “…not even our scientific doctrines, not even our dis-beliefs [author’s indentation], could retain any value as revelations of truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of their possessor’s body at the time.” (James, 1928, p. 14).

One needs a mind/body to assert/reflect anything (Earth as the throne of Spirit)

            Writing on the stance of medical materialism (LOOK UP FURTHER): James observed that “It is sure, just as every simple man is sure, that some states of mind are inwardly superior to others, and reveal to us more truth,” (James, 1928, p. 14). It could be suggested that James was having a playful jibe at medical materialism by his use of the phrase ‘simple man’. Would most people agree with the idea that some states of mind are superior to others? I suspect so…

            James continued with his reasoning, and stated that medical materialism: “… has no physiological theory of the production of these its favorite states, by which it may accredit them; and its attempt to discredit those states which it dislikes [those of a religious bent], by vaguely associating them with nerves and liver, and connecting them with names connoting bodily affliction, is altogether illogical and inconsistent.” (James, 1928, p. 15).

*Find some kind of quote about things/thoughts not being better than others but simply more useful? Undifferentiated consciousness?

Make no difference for that way comes hurt – Liber Al

“When we think certain states of mind superior to others, is it ever because of what we know concerning their organic antecedents? No!” (James, 1928, p. 15)

“It is either because we take an immediate delight in them; or else it is because we believe them to bring us good consequential fruits for life.” (James, 1928, p. 15)       

James clearly took the position that regardless of where the thought/feeling/state of mind emanated from (whether from fever or epilepsy etc), it was the quality of the thought that mattered, not the source from which it came. This in itself is justification enough for practices as Varma Marg/Tantric/Vajrayama (EXPAND?) As he observed “…for aught we know to the contrary, 103° or 104° Fahrenheit might be a more favourable temperature for truths to germinate and sprout in,” (James, 1928, p. 15).

DON’T GO INTO CONCEPTS OF WHAT TRUTH IS; DESPITE ‘TRUTH’ BEING INTERGRAL TO ‘RELIGION’ – HA HA HA – though (in which text book was it?) there must be consideration of what is acceptable reality – FIND THAT TEXT

Irrespective of where the thought springs from “It is the character of inner happiness in the thoughts which stamps them as good, or else their consistency with our other opinions and their serviceability for our needs, which makes them pass for true in our esteem.” (James, 1928, p. 15) – though James did couch this position with “What immediately feels most ‘good’ is not always most ‘true’,” (James, 1928, p. 15) and that “If merely ‘feeling good’ could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience.” (James, 1928, p. 16). Perhaps devotees of Bacchus or Dionysus might agree with this but sadly the rest of humanity does not.

            James noted that one cannot be drunk for any prolonged length of time but one can engage in “sentimental and mystical experience” (James, 1928, p. 16) for prolonged periods – indeed, one’s entire life in some cases. James pointed out that these moments of ‘sentimental and mystical experience’ are fleeting and not everyone gets them; mundane life contradicts these moments or makes no connection with them whatsoever “Hence the sad discordancy of so many of the spiritual judgements of human beings;” (James, 1928, p. 16). James made a connection between the genius and ‘madness’ – or rather mental instability of his contemporaries; quoting Nisbet (?): “…And it is worthy of remark that, as a rule, the greater the genius, the greater the unsoundness.” (James, 1928, p. 17)

Also quotes Dr Moreau and Dr Lombroso (Research) P.16

James pointed out that Moreau et al do not propose that ‘we’ cease to admire the product of genius, despite their proposition that the product (whatever this may be; art, poetry etc) is a result of a medical imbalance. So why disregard the genius of “religious manifestations” (James, 1928, p. 17) ? James pushed this point further, and argued that

“…for the most part the masterpieces are left unchallenged; and the medical line of attack either confines itself to such secular productions as every one admits to be intrinsically eccentric, or else addresses itself exclusively to religious manifestations. And then it is because the religious manifestations have been already condemned because the critic dislikes them on internal or spiritual grounds.” (James, 1928, p. 17).

It is quite possible that James was suggesting that critics do not take issue with religious madness which conforms to their own beliefs. Returning to the ‘illogical and inconsistence’ of applying medical reasons of puberty etc to religious feeling but not to engineering etc, James argued that “In the natural sciences and industrial arts it never occurs to anyone to refute opinions by showing up their author’s neurotic constitution.” (James, 1928, p. 17). James believed that opinions should be tested by logic and experiment, and he concluded that “It should be no otherwise with religious opinions.” (James, 1928, p. 18). One of the difficulties uncovered by this research is the simple fact that there is little data/research on group religious experiences; it is inevitably one subject who speaks to god.

*Re-read Jung; theory that words have lost their power. General populace suspicious of witchcraft as followers of WC might have access to the ‘words of power’

“They know something we don’t.”

Persecution as a result of lost faith (in Words); jealousy?

James quotes Dr Maudsley, who is “…perhaps the cleverest of the rebutters of supernatural religion…” (James, 1928, p. 19) – even Maudsley is forced to admit that Nature “…may find an incomplete mind a more suitable instrument for a particular purpose.” (Maudsley in James, 1928, p. 19). Maudsley concedes that it is not the origin of a belief “…but the way in which it works on the whole, [author’s indentation]” (Maudsley in James, 1928, p. 19). At this point James has identified the essential problem – not just of religion but of existence itself – that of discriminating between ‘the divine’ and ‘the demonic’ (P.20). James has suggested that “By their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots.” (James, 1928, p. 20).

Where the belief comes from is irrelevant; what people do with their belief is what matters?

Here James quotes from Saint Theresa’s autobiography (P.21), then observes: “…the result of mere operations of the imagination is but to weaken the soul…whereas a genuine heavenly vision yields to her a harvest of ineffable spiritual riches, and an admirable renewal of bodily strength.” (James, 1928, p. 21). At this point James has summarised why he uses the more ‘extreme’ cases of religious experience as “…it will always lead to a better understanding of a thing’s significance to consider its exaggerations and perversions,” (James, 1928, p. 22). It could be argued that James’ position is one of netti-netti; by which a thing is not, we come to recognize what it is? He also suggests “…that of illusions has been the key to the right comprehension of perception.” (James, 1928, p. 22), making the argument that in the very infirmity of religious zeal is the gem religious truth (p.25).

            “What, the, is more natural than that this temperament should introduce one to regions of religious truth, to corners of the universe, which your robust Philistine type of nervous system, forever offering its biceps to be felt, thumping its breast, and thanking Heaven that it hasn’t a single morbid fibre in its composition, would be sure to hide forever from its self-satisfied possessors?” (James, 1928, p. 25)

(Lecture 2)

Circumscription of the Topic

James defined the ‘essence’ of religion by “…the very fact that they are so many and so different from one another is enough to prove that the word ‘religion’ cannot stand for any single principle or essence, but is rather a collective name.” (James, 1928, p. 26). Though he tempered this position with “The theorizing mind tends always to the over-simplification of its materials.” (James, 1928, p. 26).

He used the idea of ‘government’; that of many different ‘essences’ – “…one of which is more important at one moment and others at another.” (James, 1928, p. 26).  For James the same idea applied to ‘religious sentiment’: “…the moment we are willing to treat the term ‘religious sentiment’ as a collective name for the many sentiments which religious objects may arouse in alternation, we see that it probably contains nothing whatever of a psychologically specific nature.” (James, 1928, p. 27)

He clarified his point by the statement that “There is religious fear, religious love, religious awe, religious joy, and so forth.” (James, 1928, p. 27). James expanded on this idea, and explained that these feelings are the same as their usual/mundane counterparts: “…only this time it comes over us at the thought of supernatural relations;” (James, 1928, p. 27). One Witch interviewed, Leonora, believed that for her it was not a case of many types of religious sentiment, instead

“I believe that there are some forms and people that are intelligent enough or sensitive enough to scientifically or even intuitively understand the basic principle of existence and creation, which is basically what all of these philosophies and religions and so forth are aiming to either access or explain.” (Leonora, 2018).

Link to Crowley and the feelings of divinity when shouting barbarous names on the heath at midnight?

            James continued with this particular line of thought when he wrote that “…there is no ground for assuming a simple abstract ‘religious emotion’ to exist as a distinct elementary mental affection by itself, present in every religious experience without exception.” (James, 1928, p. 28). James’ statement appears to suggest that it is impossible to refine or distil religious feeling to one definitive definition, and went further when he posited that “As there thus seems to be no one elementary religious emotion, but only a common storehouse of emotions upon which religious objects may draw, so there might conceivably also prove to be no one specific and essential kind of religious object, and no one specific and essential kind of religious act.” (James, 1928, p. 28). Given that this single sentence rejects the idea of exclusiveness in regard to religious sentiment and acts, it is not difficult to convincingly argue that James did not subscribe to monotheism of any kind.

            Amy, an eclectic Witch from South-West Brisbane holds a similar belief; when asked for her view on the premise of a single religious sentiment, she responded that

“I believe that every single person is different…with Witchcraft it’s about owning who you are; embracing the God and Goddess within yourself, or whatever you believe within yourself – and not hiding behind someone else’s religion, or someone else’s belief. It’s about incorporating what you feel is right for you, and walking your own path. We are all different, we are all unique, we are all individuals.” (Amy, 2017).

            When discussing this particular ‘variety’, Amy explained that the coven which she oversees FOLLOW UP INTERVIEW _ IS THE COVEN ‘HERS’? consists of thirteen very different individuals; one is a druid, others have a focus on Celtic spirituality, etc.

“But each one brings a piece of the pie to the coven so we learn and we respect each other’s belief systems – we may resonate with five per cent of what someone else believes or we might resonate with a lot more but it’s [about] listening to and respecting someone else’s beliefs…we’re all on a different path. We all heal differently, we all feel stuff differently, and we should all have the right to chose which path we wish to walk on.” (Amy, 2017)

James acknowledged that “At the outset we are struck by one great partition which divides the religious field. On the one side of it lies institutional, on the other personal religion.” (James, 1928, p. 28), and clarified the position that he would be taking during this particular series of lectures by specifying that “…in these lectures I propose to ignore the institutional branch entirely…and to confine myself as far as I can to personal religion pure and simple.” (James, 1928, p. 29). This is another reason why James’ ‘varieties’, as outlined in VRE are used as the criteria in this research. There is no ‘Church of the Witch’ and, group ritual settings aside, the religious experience of the Witch is for the most part, almost entirely personal.

The above two quotes delineate precisely what James’ proposed to examine.

In relation to institutional religion, James noted that

“Churches, when once established, live at second-hand upon tradition; but the founders [author’s indentation] of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communication with the divine. Not only the superhuman founders, the Christ, the Buddha, Mahomet, but all the originators of Christian sects have been in this case; – so personal religion should still seem the primordial thing,” (James, 1928, p. 30).

Again, Crowley took a similar position when he proposed that Christ, Mohammed, and the Buddha all experienced a similar phenomenon prior to establishing their respective faiths. (Crowley et al., 2010, pp. 7-14), Does ‘faiths’ really apply to Buddhism?

Amy’s response to the question of institutional versus personal religion was diplomatic.

“If that’s what someone wants to put their faith in then I’ve got no issues. I’ve got friends who are Mormons – this and that – and that’s what they believe in but to me I look at that and it’s not taking ownership of your own actions. A lot of people hide behind other religions and don’t take accountability for their own selves. Say they’re part of a religious sect but they don’t actually walk the path and then they turn up to church on a Sunday and everything is forgiven…you need to take control of your own actions and be accountable for yourself.” (Amy, 2017)

Amy appeared to believe that people need to take responsibility for their own actions, and that many institutionalised religions allowed people to ‘sin on a Monday and confess/be absolved on a Sunday’ WORD BETTER. Amy saw personal agency (and the responsibilities that this entailed) as being exceptionally empowering for the individual

For the purposes of his lectures, James’ definition of religion was that

“Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine [author’s indentation].” (James, 1928, p. 31)

He also acknowledged the controversial nature of the word ‘divine’ (p.31), and that

“There are systems of thought which the world usually calls religious, and yet which do not positively assume a God. Buddhism is in this case.” (James, 1928, p. 31), though he clarified this with the observation that  “Popularly, of course, Buddha himself stands in the place of a God;” (James, 1928, p. 31) and that “…in strictness the Buddhistic system is atheistic.” (James, 1928, p. 31). This may account for why Buddhism is only briefly touched on throughout VRE, as, by James’ parameters, Buddhism is not ‘strictly’ a religion.


            Amy defined ‘divine’ as “Being at peace with yourself.” (Amy, 2017) and she expanded on this by explaining that one has to let go of negative experiences and emotions such as pain or anger as these experiences and associated emotions may prevent a person from being open and loving in the future. “Not being self-critical; we are who we are; accept who you are – if you don’t like who you are then you’ve got the power to change. Taking ownership and connecting with spirit is definitely a big one for me…” (Amy, 2017)



Leonora took a much broader approach saying that “Whatever you consider to be divine.” (Leonora, 2018). She expanded on this, observing that

“’Divine’ is a term which is awe-inspiring, by definition, awe-inspiring or inspires a sense of wonder within a person; a sense of the unknown, the curiosity factor, the desire to know. Or something that makes you feel secure, or happy, or thrilled, or ecstatic, it depends on how far you want to go, depending on your character. But whatever it is that inspires that feeling within you, within nature, that you wish to communicate with in some way or know more deeply, that’s what I consider to be divine.” (Leonora, 2018)

James included Emerson – Divinity College, Emersonianism? Quotes at length Emerson’s (1838?) perception of abstract laws (yet unbalanced) of the universe (P.32 – P.33) MORE INFO ON EMERSON?

…and observed that Emerson could not be excluded because “…it would be too absurd to say that the inner experiences that underlie such expressions of faith as this and impel the writer to their utterance are quite unworthy to be called religious experiences.” (James, 1928, p. 34). He finished this lecture with

“We must therefore, from the experiential point of view, call these godless or quasi-godless creeds ‘religions’; and accordingly when in our definition of religion we speak of the individual’s relation to ‘what he considers the divine’, we must interpret the term ‘divine’ very broadly, as denoting any object that is godlike [author’s indentation], whether it be a concrete deity or not.” (James, 1928, p. 34)

Refer to Bruce (?) – anything that anyone deems to call ‘art’ is art?!

James recognised the term ‘godlike’ as being vague, and asked himself ‘what is this ‘godlike’ quality?’ He went further into detail, and proposed that “For one thing, gods are conceived to be first things in the way of being and power. They overarch and envelope, and from them there is no escape.” (James, 1928, p. 34). An ominous conclusion, no less. He continued with “What relates to them is the first and last word in the way of truth. Whatever then were most primal and enveloping and deeply true might at this rate be treated as godlike, and a man’s religion might thus be identified with his attitude, whatever it might be, towards what he felt to be the primal truth.” (James, 1928, p. 34)

^it’s all about the cash and materialism

No! It’s all about x

No! It’s all about y

Thus religious wars…

James suggested that this definition (previous quote) is a valid definition but it is apparent that he’s not really going for this IS THERE AN BETTER TERM THAN ‘not really going for this’?!. He then asks why shouldn’t people call their reactions to the universe religious; after all (speaking of fervent opponents of Christian doctrine) they have “…shown a temper which, psychologically considered, is indistinguishable from religious zeal.” (James, 1928, p. 35).

            James has then stated that these too broad definitions of religion are too inconvenient (P.35), and quotes the curmudgeonly attitudes of Voltaire to dispose of the idea (P.36). He quotes Renan (P.36 – P.37) on the virtues of avoiding extremes of attitude but observes “For common men ‘religion’, whatever more special meanings it may have, signifies always a serious state of mind [author’s indentation].” (James, 1928, p. 37). James suggests that ‘religion’ “…favors gravity, not pertness; it says ‘hush’ to all vain chatter and smart wit.” (James, 1928, p. 37), and continues with “But if hostile to light irony, religion is equally hostile to heavy grumbling and complaint.” (James, 1928, p. 38). He also adds that “…melancholy, according to our ordinary use of language, forfeits all title to be called religious when, in Marcus Aurelius’s racy words, the sufferer simply lies kicking and screaming after the fashion of a sacrificed pig.” (James, 1928, p. 38) Add something in about the gloomy, doomy monotheist religions in contrast to the joyful, cheerful pagans and Witches?

At this point, James has taken a sly poke at Schopenhauer, Nietzche, and Carlyle for this behaviour (P.38). He has then proposed a refined definition of religious attitude further:

“If glad, it must not grin or snicker; if sad, it must not scream or curse. So I propose – arbitrarily again, if you please – to narrow our definition once more by saying that the word ‘divine’ as employed therein, shall mean for us not merely the primal and enveloping and real, for that meaning if taken without restriction might well prove too broad. The divine shall mean for us only such a primal reality as the individual feels Impelled to respond to solemnly and gravely, and neither by a curse or jest.” (James, 1928, p. 38)

It is no wonder that James focuses on Abrahamic religions. It could be argued that these religions are  perfectly suited to this definition. Yes, I know, I can’t have this line in here!

Irrespective of how religion is defined “…the truth must at last be confronted that we are dealing with a field of experience where there is not a single conception that can be sharply drawn.” (James, 1928, pp. 38-39). James has then counselled against being too ‘scientific’ or ‘exact’ because “Things are more or less divine, states of mind re more or less religious, reactions are more or less total, but the boundaries are always misty, and it is everywhere a question of amount and degree.” (James, 1928, p. 39). Further, “The only cases likely to be profitable enough to repay our attention will therefore be cases where the religious spirit is unmistakable and extreme.” (James, 1928). This is a re-admission of the examples that he uses throughout VRE.

James has quoted from the biography of Frederick Locker Lampson (P.39 – P.40) who sees human life as “…a froward child, that must be played with and humoured, to keep it quiet till it falls asleep, and then the care is over.” (James, 1928, p. 40). Even when he has quoted this example, James has acknowledged that   this example may well be considered as a religious state of mind but it is not vigorous, ‘extreme’, or ‘energetic’ so James is not interested in these lesser states but instead “It is with these more energetic states that our sole business lies,” (James, 1928, p. 41).

“Morality pure and simple accepts the law of the whole which it finds reigning, so far as to acknowledge and obey it, but it may obey it with the heaviest and coldest heart, and never cease to feel it as a yoke. But for religion, in its strong and fully developed manifestations, the service of the highest never is felt as a yoke. Dull submission is left far behind, and a mood of welcome, which may fill any place on the scale between cheerful serenity and enthusiastic gladness, has taken its place.” (James, 1928, p. 41)

James has noted the differences between the emotional and practical of how one accepts the universe, whether in “…the drab discoloured way of stoic resignation to necessity, or with the passionate happiness of Christian saints.” (James, 1928, p. 41).  “If we compare stoic with Christian ejaculations we see much more than a difference of doctrine; rather is it a difference of emotional mood that arts them.” (James, 1928, p. 42) Again, he quotes Marcus Aurelius as an example of the stoic attitude, and contrasts with the biblical Job (P.42), and has noted that “…the difference of emotional atmosphere is like that between an arctic climate and the tropics, though the outcome in the way of accepting actual conditions uncomplainingly may seem in abstract terms to be much the same.” (James, 1928, p. 42).

James goes on to give several examples of Christian warmth and stoic chil, such as  “The essence of religious experiences, the thing by which we finally must judge them, must be that element or quality in them which we can meet nowhere else. And such a quality will be of course most prominent and easy to notice in those religious experiences which are most one-sided, exaggerated, and intense.” (James, 1928, p. 45). He has reiterated the difference in attitude between the purely moral (stoic) man and ‘the Christian’ (P.45 – P.47). In essence, the stoic ‘braces’ (eg – puts effort into his morality) while the Christian serves happily (or is it subsumed?).

“There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others, in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God.” (James, 1928, p. 47), “The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about, has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away.” (James, 1928, p. 47), and “We shall see how infinitely passionate a thing religion at its highest flights can be. Like love, like wrath, like hope, ambition, jealousy, like every other instructive eagerness and impulse, it adds to life an enchantment which is not rationally or logically deducible from anything else.” (James, 1928, p. 47).

            James has noted the positive influence on the religious practitioner: “Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the Subject’s range of life. It gives him a new sphere of power.” (James, 1928, p. 48)

^Debatable; what if the religious feeling compels one to preach? NOT ENTIRELY SURE WHY I WROTE THAT?

“If religion is to mean anything definite to us, it seems to me that we ought to take it as meaning this added dimension of emotion,” (James, 1928, p. 48)

“It ought to mean nothing short of this new reach of freedom for us, with the struggle over, the Keynote of the universe sounding in our ears, and everlasting possession spread before our eyes.”  (James, 1928, p. 48)

“This sort of happiness in the absolute and everlasting is what we find nowhere but in religion.” (James, 1928, p. 48)

James makes a distinction between ‘religious happiness’ and animal/material happiness, and differentiates it from “…all mere enjoyment of the present,” (James, 1928, p. 48). ^Debate ‘the moment’/’in the now’/’wholly present’ aspect of religious experience

James quotes Mr Havelock Ellis (The New Spirit) who does not make this distinction, instead Ellis says that all happiness is religion (P.48 – P.49). James counters Ellis with “But such straight identification of religion with any and every form of happiness leaves the essential peculiarity of religious happiness out. The more commonplace happiness which we get are ‘reliefs’, occasioned by our momentary escapes from evils either experienced or threatened.” (James, 1928, p. 49). He concludes that

“…in its most characteristic embodiments, religious happiness is no mere feeling of escape.” (James, 1928, p. 49) but he cannot explain how this is so “…for it is religion’s secret, and to understand it you must yourself have been a religious man of the extremer type.” (James, 1928, p. 49).

James speaks of painting by Guido Reni; St Michael with his foot on Satan’s neck allegorically speaking: “…the world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck [author’s indentation].” (James, 1928, p. 50).

Is our mundane personality the devil?!

“In the religious consciousness, that is just the position in which the fiend, the negative or tragic principle, is found; and for that very reason the religious consciousness is so rich from the emotional point of view.” (James, 1928, p. 50)

He continues “We shall see how in certain men and women it takes on a monstrously ascetic form. There are saints who have literally fed on the negative principle, on humiliation and privation, and the thought of suffering and death, – their souls growing in happiness just in proportion as their outward state grew more intolerable.” (James, 1928, p. 50). Again, ‘left hand path’ ?

“And it is for that reason that when we ask our question about the value of religion for human life, I think we ought to look for the answer among these violenter examples rather than those of a more moderate hue.” (James, 1928, p. 50). If value can be found in these extreme examples then this value can also be applied to life in general. James anticipates the argument against this stance:

“How can religion on the whole be the most important of all functions…if every several manifestation of it in turn have to be corrected and sobered down and pruned away [author’s indentation]?” (James, 1928, pp. 50-51)


James’ response to this question is

“That personal attitude which the individual finds himself impelled to take up towards what he apprehends to be the divine – and you will remember that this was our definition – will prove to be both a helpless and a sacrificial attitude. That is, we shall have to confess to at least some amount of dependence on sheer mercy, great or small, to save our souls alive.” (James, 1928, p. 51)

Again James has differentiated between non-religious and religious life in relation to sacrifice; with the non religious life, he sees sacrifice/submission as “an imposition of necessity,” (James, 1928, p. 51). However “In the religious life, on the contrary, surrender and sacrifice are positively espoused: even unnecessary givings-up are added in order that the happiness may increase. Religion thus makes easy and felicitous what in any case is necessary [author’s indentation];” (James, 1928, p. 51)

^Why is giving things up necessary?

He finishes with “…if it be the only agency that can accomplish this result, its vital importance as a human faculty stands vindicated beyond dispute.” (James, 1928, pp. 51-52). “It becomes an essential organ of our life, performing a function which no other portion of our nature can so successfully fulfil.” (James, 1928, p. 52)

^Is he suggesting religion functions as a means of putting up with/enduring the tribulations and chalenges that life/the universe throws at us?

(Lecture 3)

The Reality of the Unseen

“Were one asked to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.” (James, 1928, p. 53). Ruin, who described herself as a Celtic Pagan Witch, took the position that an ‘unseen divine order’ was “…unseen in the way microbes are unseen. I’m not inclined to believe there is another world or spiritual dimension, that god or the gods are in a place apart from us. Just that there is a necessarily limited human perspective and we have to learn to infer a lot of the truth without directly encountering it.” (Ruin, 2019). Regarding living in harmony with the unseen divine order, Ruin responded that “I tend to think of everything in terms of relationships, so I’d word it differently, but I do see my path as a process of relationship building with the unseen. Learning to trust and/or emulate it.” (Ruin, 2019)

Amy referred to a ‘vision quest’ retreat that she undertook several years ago; this involved. a great deal of isolation, sitting naked in a small circle with nothing but a bottle of water for prolonged periods of meditation. “During that time I really felt that people are so disconnected from each other. We can blame the government, we can blame the things that go on behind the scenes; media, TV, everything else but people have become so disconnected from each other. We’ve got borders and boundaries on every thing…and we need to stop and realise that we don’t need the big flash house, we don’t need the big flash car. We need to reconnect and become self-sufficient – respect the land and reconnect with community.”  Does she see this ‘unseen reality’ as a ‘connection?

Leonora made a similar point that “Some people think a leaf on a tree is marvellous, and can spend years contemplating its’ form and its’ structure – ask any botanist. That’s a form of magic.” (Leonora, 2018).

 “This belief and this adjustment are the religious attitude in the soul.” (James, 1928, p. 53)

“All our attitudes, moral, practical, or emotional, as well as religious, are due to the ‘objects’ of our consciousness, the things which we believe to exist, whether really or ideally, along with ourselves.” (James, 1928, p. 53)

James goes further, suggesting that people react to the ‘objects’: “The more concrete objects of most men’s religion, the deities whom they worship, are known to them only in idea.” (James, 1928, pp. 53-54). QUOTE THE HARD POLYTHEISTS INTERVIEWED WHO SEE DIETIES AS INDEPENDENT WITH UNIQUE PERSONALITIES

“The whole force of the Christian religion, therefore, so far as belief in the divine personages determines the prevalent attitude of the believer, is in general exerted by the instrumentality of pure ideas, of which nothing in the individual’s past experience directly serves as a model.” (James, 1928, p. 54) QUOTE INTERVIEWEES WHO VIEW DEITIES AS FRIENDS

James expands on his idea of ‘objects’, and has noted that  “But in addition to these ideas of the more concrete religious objects, religion is full of abstract objects which prove to have an equal power.” (James, 1928, p. 54). He gives examples of God’s attributes as “…his holiness, his justice, his mercy, his absoluteness, his infinity, his omniscience, his tri-unity, the various mysteries of the redemptive process, the operations of the sacraments, etc, have proved fertile wells of inspiring meditation for Christian believers.” (James, 1928, p. 54)

            James quotes ‘a curious doctrine’ (P.54) of Immanuel Kant; that notions of God, the soul, immortality, etc, have no sense-content/meaning per se therefore “…they are words devoid of significance.” (P.55) yet by acting as if there were a God, as if there were an afterlife “…we find then that these words do make a genuine difference in our moral life.” (James, 1928, p. 55). “So when we have the strange phenomenon, as Kant assures us, of a mind believing with all its strength in the real presence of a set of things of no one which it can form any notion of whatsoever.” (James, 1928, p. 55).Yet, despite the inability to grasp these terms, the life is enriched by them. But James’ point is “…not to express any opinion as to the accuracy of this particularly uncouth part of his philosophy but only to illustrate the characteristic of human nature…” (James, 1928, p. 55); namely that “The sentiment of reality can indeed attach itself so strongly to our object of belief that our whole life is polarized through and through, so to speak, by its sense of the existence of the thing believed in, and yet that thing, for the purpose of definite description, can hardly be said to be present to our mind at all.” (James, 1928, p. 55). James adds weight to his proposition with Plato’s doctrine of Abstract Beauty: “…a perfectly definite individual being, of which the intellect is aware as of something additional to all the perishing beauties of the earth.” (James, 1928, p. 57).

“It is as if there were in the human consciousness a sense of reality, a feeling of objective presence, a perception of what we may call ‘something there’ [author’s indentation] more deep and more general than any of the special and particular ‘senses’ by which the current psychology supposes existent realities to be originally revealed.” (James, 1928, p. 58). This seems. To suggest a different order of reality, usually ungrasped by usual/mundane consciousness. He quotes a colleague’s ‘hallucinations’ to illustrate the point (P.59 to 61), and gives several examples of the certainty associated with hallucinations (P.61-P.62); ‘presences’ before moving on to give examples of ‘presences’ as ‘not-God’ then ‘God.’

James has given several examples of union with God, finishing with James Russell Lowell’s quote that, perhaps inevitably “I cannot tell you what this revelation was.” (P.66) The silence of Spirit/Inability of language to convey (St Paul; taken up into heaven and shown things unlawful to speak of)

            Many of those interviewed were unable to fully articulate their experience of interacting with the divine, which aligns with James’ observation that “It is impossible to fully describe the experience.” (James, 1928, p. 66). INEFFABLE

James gives the experience of a clergyman whose experience was so strong that “Since that time no discussion that I have heard of the proof of God’s existence has been able to shake my faith.” (James, 1928, p. 67). Another example “,,,even more definite in character,” (James, 1928, p. 67) sees James quoting ‘a writer’ who feels the presence of God and weeps, and despite the clarity and certainty of the experience “…the more I seek words to express this intimate intercourse, the more I feel the impossibility of describing the thing by any of our usual images.” (James, 1928, p. 68). A new language is required?

            James gives quotes other accounts (P.70) that include observations such as 

“What I felt on these occasions was a temporary loss of my own identity, accompanied by an illumination which revealed to me a deeper significance that I had been wont to attach to life.” (James, 1928, p. 70). Another person said “God is more real to me than any thought or thing or person. I feel his presence positively, and the more I live in closer harmony with his laws as written in my body and mind. I feel him in the sunshine or rain; and awe mingled with a delicious restfulness most nearly describes my feelings.” (James, 1928, p. 70)

*Not dissimilar to Leonora’s description of the divine in everything, and others with the trees etc

The person quoted here goes on to say of the experience “Without it life would be a blank, a desert, a shoreless, trackless waste.” (James, 1928, p. 71). Another account (P.71) where the ‘experiencer of God’ tells how he is guided by God, and finishes with “But on two or three occasions he has ordered ways for me very contrary to my ambitions and plans.” (James, 1928, p. 71)

Ruin disagreed that her experiences of the divine made her act contrary to her own personal/mundane ambitions and plans. “I think of my religion as being guided by my reasoning and morality, not the other way around. It causes me to consider things from another perspective – one less concerned with perfectionism, more concerned with others – but that hasn’t resulted in changes to any major plans in my life. It rather influences everyday actions.” (Ruin, 2019).

*God [the Devil?] made me do it!

Speaking o the conviction of the experience, James notes “They are as convincing to those who have them as any direct sensible experiences can be, and they are, as a rule, much more convincing than results established by mere logic ever are.” (James, 1928, p. 72). He goes on, observing that “The opinion opposed to mysticism in philosophy is sometimes spoken of as rationalism [author’s indentation]. Rationalism insists that all our beliefs ought ultimately to find for themselves articulate grounds.” (James, 1928, p. 73).

At this point James identifies four rationalist principles:

  • Definitely statable abstract principles
  • Definite facts of sensation
  • Definite hypotheses based on such facts
  • Definite inferences logically drawn (P. 73)

While James praised rationalism’s positive side as “…surely a splendid intellectual tendency,” (James, 1928, p. 73), he did couch this with

“Nevertheless, if we look on man’s whole mental life as it exists, on the life of men that lies in them apart from their learning and science, and that they inwardly and privately follow, we have to confess that the part of it which rationalism can give an account is relatively superficial.” (James, 1928, p. 73)

James has noted that rationalism can challenge for proofs and logic “But it will fail to convince or convert you all the same, if your dumb intuitions are opposed to its conclusions.” (James, 1928, p. 73). This could be linked to the ‘contrary to my plans’ quote; is God the intuitive/subconscious?!

            Ruin agreed with this, explaining that

“I don’t think my religious beliefs are rationally established. I am strongly opposed to the idea that religious belief even need occupy the part of my thoughts concerned with rational explanation. I suppose I think that religion is established more by desire than reason: I desire a relationship with the divine, ergo I pursue it.” (Ruin, 2019).

She went further. Clarifying that “I try not to linger long on the subject of belief at all. I am not at peace with not understanding things, but I try to follow the tradition of many religions and contemplate mysteries without trying to resolve them.” (Ruin, 2019).

Leonora took the firm belief that

“Witchcraft in fact should not be based in any kind of belief system unless you’re talking about the Outer Circle which is completely structured on belief and faith and worship. But if you want to go further into it you have to drop belief, hope, faith, worship, fear, and all of that stuff and start working on understanding and knowing things.” (Leonora, 2018).

Leonora clarified this by explaining her belief in ‘three great circles of magic’; an outer circle, a middle circle, and an inner circle. The outer circle is based “…in a belief structure which says ‘I don’t know but I hope it’s so, I’m firmly of the mind that it’s so, and therefore I demand that it be that way…” (Leonora, 2018).When asked if Leonora’s religion had any deities, she said initially said that there were not, adding that “Oh no, no, no – we do – as long as, let me say this, because it will help you.”. This stance seemed to infer that Leonora’s religion used deity, or the idea of deity, only up to a certain point in initiation; once the practitioner had reached a certain degree of competence, the idea of gods and goddesses were no longer necessary. As she said “…we do worship, experience, and interact with projected entities but only if we understand, when we understand, what they are and how they got there. We don’t do it with blind faith.” (Leonora, 2018). Regarding this approach, Leonora held the idea that “…anyone who worships any projected entity whether it’s a god or goddess, whether it’s Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or whatever you want to call it, is practising Witchcraft.” (Leonora, 2018)

Though when asked if she had ever experienced unreasoned belief as an experience or belief that defied rational or reasoned explanation, Leonora was quick with the good-humoured response of “Yeah – Christianity!” (Leonora, 2018).

Regarding Intuitions, James believed that “…they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits.” (James, 1928, p. 73) Could it be they come from a higher level? .“The truth is that the in metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate reasons are cogent for us only when our inarticulate feelings of reality have already been impressed in favour of the same conclusion.” (James, 1928, p. 74) *Also, use of the ‘rational’ to back up/confirm the ‘irrational’

“Every time I do meditation, it blows my mind! It makes me see things a lot clearer because sometimes I get shown a lot of pieces of the puzzle but it’s not until three years later that it all starts forming. I’m forever surprised with to me happens to me, and within ritual, and messages that come through.” (Amy, 2017). Amy spoke of several instances of omens; animals appearing, planetary alignments etc with one example that was particularly striking; a group meditation exercise with all members working on the astral plane. Following the close of the ritual, several members reported similar experiences that focussed on a bird-bath. For her, these experiences were not simply coincidences as the shared details were far too specific.

“Our impulsive belief is here always what sets up the original body of truth, and our articulately verbalized philosophy is but its showy translation into formulas.” (James, 1928, p. 74)

“Instinct leads, intelligence does but follow.” (James, 1928, p. 74)

However, James points out “…that I do not say that it is better that the subconscious and non-rational should thus hold primacy in the religious realm. I confine myself to simply pointing out that they do so hold it as a matter of fact.” (James, 1928, p. 74)

James mentions the gladness and sadness of religion, which “Stated in the completest possible terms, a man’s religion involves both moods of contraction and moods of expansion of his being.” (James, 1928, p. 75)

*Does NOT refer to the yogic siddhis of being able to become very large/very small!

As James has observed, across all religions and /ages “The constitutionally sombre and the constitutionally sanguine onlooker are bound to emphasize opposite aspects of what lies before their eyes.” (James, 1928, p. 75). Therefore (or in other words):

“The constitutionally sombre religious person makes even of his religious peace a very sober thing.” (James, 1928, p. 76). The similarity with Crowley’s proposition that one who witnesses Samadhi (or union with God) with an unbalanced mind will find their vision of God is distorted in direct relation to their imbalance.

“If we turn to the sanguine onlooker…we find that deliverance is felt as incomplete unless the burden be altogether overcome and the danger completely forgotten.” (James, 1928, p. 76). And thus we move into the investigation of healthy-mindedness.

 (Lectures 4 and 5)

The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness

Open this chapter with some interview quotes on ‘shadow work’ and the Witch’s general lack of need to be positive at all times?

While Amy has a preference for a positive outlook, she in no way attempts to deny the negative mood.

“I’ll have my down days when it’s like ‘Fuck it!’ but what I’ll do is normally go into isolation, and I’ll sit there and I’ll do a meditation, I’ll do a cleanse, and through the meditation I’ll find out what’s really going on; am I under stress? Do I need to learn to say ‘no’ because I’m one of those people that always like to be going? You’ve got to embrace the shadow-self. For me, I don’t believe in all of this ‘lovey-dovey, everything’s wonderful all of the time’ [attitude] because you now what? It’s not.” (Amy, 2017)

For Amy, self-reflection is an integral part of her religious practice, and she endeavours to recognise both the light and dark aspects of being.

This sentiment was echoed by Ruin, who said that “I’m naturally positive and optimistic, but I think that accepting bad things is part of that. Religion reminds and enables me to accept suffering.” Not to accept injustice or preventable harm etc, but to accept the grief that comes with death, the pain that comes with injury, the body and soul’s need for rest and tenderness.” (Ruin, 2019).

“With such relations between religion and happiness, it is perhaps not surprising that men come to regard the happiness which a religious belief affords as a proof of its truth. If a creed makes a man feel happy, he almost inevitably adopts it.” (James, 1928, p. 78)

*Compare to future comments on licking the scabs of lepers and ideas on penitence (the joy of penance…?)

James has clarified the opening quote of this chapter with “I mean those who, when unhappiness is offered or proposed to them, positively refuse to feel it, as if it were something mean and wrong.” (James, 1928, p. 79).

“It is probable that there never has been a century in which the deliberate refusal to think ill of life has not been idealized by a sufficient number of persons to form sects, open or secret, who claimed all natural things to be permitted.” (James, 1928, pp. 79-80). It is worth noting that James does not expand on what he considers to be ‘natural things’.

Ruin rejected the idea of being constantly happy, saying that “Suffering is natural to life and religion. I’m deeply offended by any Christian or Pagan religious practice that says you have to be happy [at all times]. Christ suffered. Brigit suffered. Everyone who has lived has suffered, and there should be no human activity that doesn’t have room for it, least of all religion.” (Ruin, 2019).

James quotes St Augustine’s maxim:

“…if you but love [God], you may do as you incline [author’s brackets],” (James, 1928, p. 80) which might go some way to explaining the crimes of the church?

            Reflecting on St Augustine’s quote, James has noted that it is “…morally one of the profoundest observations, yet it is pregnant, for such persons, with passports beyond the bounds of conventional morality.” (James, 1928, p. 80)

*mention the viras/heroes of Tantra, Crowley etc – religion as outside of conventional social norms; transgression as a means to God, Vajrayana etc

James quotes Francis. W. Newman (male); English scholar/writer

“God has two families of children on this earth, the once-born and the twice-born {author’s indentation],” (Newman in James, 1928, p. 80). The once-born areas all sweetness and light, the twice-born are as needing conversion/saving from the bitterness and darkness of life.

James quotes Theodore Parker, the American Transcendentalist and reforming minister of the Unitarian church, as an example of the once-born, and Parker says “I have swum in the clear sweet waters all my days; and if sometimes they were a little cold, and the stream run adverse and sometimes rough, it was never too strong to be breasted and swum through.” (Parker in James, 1928, p. 82). Possibly mention the ‘fluffy bunnies’ of Paganism and Witchcraft?

Leonora considered the overly positive attitude of some Witches to be offensive and dangerous, and blamed this attitude on ‘Christian apologist infiltration of the Craft’, viewing this ‘infiltration’ as “…these people trying to make everything ‘la-di-da’ and everyone gets a certificate just for showing up.”, adding that “I call it ‘pink-clouding’ when you pretend that everything is just fabulous when it simply isn’t.” (Leonora, 2018). Leonora’s position highlights the realist approach that many Witches have towards their lived experience. For the Witch their religious views do not encourage a separation from ‘reality’, rather their beliefs force them to confront the darker aspects of their personalities.

This is then followed up with a quote from Dr Edward Everett Hale, author and historian, (from Starbuck’s Psychology of Religion): “I always knew that God loved me, and I was always grateful to him for the world he placed me in,” (Hale in James, 1928, p. 82). How to quote/reference appropriately?

Even in sadness the once born finds happiness, and James quotes Saint Pierre: “I know not to what physical laws philosophers will some day refer the feelings of melancholy. For myself, I find that they are the most voluptuous of all sensations.” (Pierre in James, 1928, p. 83). These sentiments are echoed by the Russian painter and sculptor Marie Bashkirtseff, who observed that “I enjoy weeping, I enjoy my despair. I enjoy being exasperated and sad.” (Bashkirtseff in James, 1928, p. 83). James considered Walt Whitman as a “supreme contemporary example” (James, 1928, p. 84) of this type of person (the once-born). From a purely pragmatic stand-point, Leonora rejected the idea of employing positive thought to ignore an oncoming cold or flu, suggesting the practitioner who took such a stance was not only doing themselves a disservice but was also acting in a manner that was dangerous to the wider community.

James extensively quotes R. M. Bucke (Cosmic Consciousness) on the saintly qualities of Whitman and it is telling that (*and research Whitman further*) James says “Thus it has come about that many persons today regard Walt Whitman as the restorer of the eternal natural religion.” (James, 1928, p. 85). James’ comments on Whitman are all the more relevant as James has observed that “Whitman is often spoken of as a ‘pagan’…” (James, 1928, p. 85). Though most interviewees were not aware of Whitman

“If, then, we give the name of healthy-mindedness to the tendency which looks on all things and sees that they are good, we find that we must distinguish between a more involuntary and a more voluntary or systematic way of being healthy-minded.” (James, 1928, p. 87)

Of the involuntary type “…healthy-mindedness is a way of feeling happy about things immediately.” (James, 1928, pp. 87-88) yet, according to James, “In its systematical variety, it is an abstract way of conceiving things as good.” (James, 1928, p. 88). “Systematic healthy-mindedness, conceiving good as the essential and universal aspect of being, deliberately excludes evil from its field of vision; and although, when thus nakedly stated, this might seem a difficult feat to perform for one who is intellectually sincere with himself and honest about facts, a little reflection shows that the situation is too complex to lie open to so simple a criticism.” (James, 1928, p. 88) Optimism as a default setting for the once-born?

James has suggested that  “…happiness, like every other emotional state, has blindness and insensibility to opposing facts given it as its instinctive weapon for self-protection against disturbance.” (James, 1928, p. 88). “When happiness is actually in possession, the thought of evil can no more acquire the feeling of reality than the thought of good can gain reality when melancholy rules.” (James, 1928, p. 88).

“But more than this: the hushing up of it may, in a. perfectly candid and honest mind, grow into a deliberate religious policy, or parti-pris [author’s indentation].” (James, 1928, p. 88)

Parti-pris = bias, prejudice, preconceived idea

James also suggests that much of the world’s ‘evil’ “…is due entirely to the way men take the phenomenon.” (James, 1928, p. 88). Shakespeare? Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so? Or something like that?  James advises humanity to brace up, fortify and face the ‘evil’, and so often it can be “…converted into a bracing and tonic good by a simple change of the sufferer’s inner attitude…” (James, 1928, p. 88). On the nature of good/evil facts, James advises that “Since you make them evil or good by your own thoughts about them, it is the ruling of your thoughts which proves to be your principle concern.” (James, 1928, p. 89)

*The essence of magick and Witchcraft? Command of one’s reality?

But with optimism “…it is impossible to carry on this discipline in the subjective sphere without zealously emphasizing the brighter and minimizing the darker aspects of the objective sphere of things at the same time.” (James, 1928, p. 89). James has summarised “And thus our resolution not to indulge in misery, beginning at a comparatively small point within ourselves, may not stop until it has brought the entire frame of reality under a systematic conception optimistic enough to be congenial with its needs.” (James, 1928, p. 89).

“When the passion is extreme, suffering may actually be gloried in, provided it be for the ideal cause, death may lose its sting, the grave its victory.” (James, 1928, p. 90)

Here James is referring to “ordinary non-mystical conditions of rapture” (James, 1928, p. 90).

He continues with “In these states, the ordinary contrast of good and ill seems to be swallowed up in a higher denomination, and omnipotent excitement which engulfs the evil, and which the human being welcomes as the crowning experience of his life.” (James, 1928, p. 90). “The advance of liberalism, so-called in Christianity, during the past fifty years, may fairly be called a victory of healthy-mindedness within the church over the morbidness with which the old hell-fire theology was more harmoniously related.” (James, 1928, p. 91).

James suggests a ‘new wave’ of Christian attitude; one opposed to focussing on sin and damnation, one which is more “muscular” and “…which to our forefathers would have seemed purely heathen,” (James, 1928, p. 91). He touches on the ‘Mind-cure movement’ or ‘New Thought’ as being  “…a deliberately optimistic scheme of life.” (James, 1928, p. 94), so much so that “…it must now be reckoned with as a genuine religious power.” (James, 1928, p. 94). ^Not dissimilar to New Age/Fluffy Bunny view

James pointedly observes that “It has reached the stage, for example, when the demand for its literature is great enough for insincere stuff, mechanically produced for the market, to be to a certain extent supplied by publishers, – a phenomena never observed, I imagine, until a religion has got well past its earliest insecure beginnings.” (James, 1928, p. 94)


Doctrinal sources of Mind-cure:

  • The four Gospels
  • Emersoniansim
  • Berkeleyan idealism
  • Spiritism
  • Evolutionism
  • Hinduism (contributes a strain) (P. 94)

“The leaders in this faith have had an intuitive belief in the all-saving power of healthy-minded attitudes as such, in the conquering efficacy of courage, hope, and trust, and a correlative contempt for doubt, fear, worry, and all nervously precautionary states of mind.” (James, 1928, pp. 94-95)

“The mind-cure principles are beginning so to pervade the air that one catches their spirit at second-hand. One hears of the ‘Gospel of Relaxation’, of the ‘Don’t Worry Movement’, of people who repeat to themselves, ‘Youth, health, vigor!’ when dressing in the morning, as their motto for the day.” (James, 1928, p. 95)

^Excessive optimism?

He continues “Complaints of the weather are getting to be forbidden in many households; and more and more people are recognizing it to be bad form to speak of disagreeable sensations, or to make much of the ordinary inconveniences and ailments of life.” (James, 1928, p. 95). In a footnote to this particular section, James reflects that “Mind-cure might be briefly called a reaction against all that religion of chronic anxiety which marked the earlier part of our century in the evangelical circles of England and America.” (James, 1928, p. 95). James says that the positive effects of the mind-cure movement cannot be ignored, despite the “…innumerable failures and self-deceptions that are mixed in with them,” (James, 1928, p. 96).

“…we can also overlook the verbiage of a good deal of the mind-cure literature, some of which is so moonstruck with optimism, and so vaguely expressed that an academically trained intellect finds it almost impossible to read it at all.” (James, 1928, p. 96) – compare with the waffle Witch books

“If you think that you’re sick, if you think that you’re unwell then turning that negative mind-set into a positive is an absolutely a must. Some people find it really hard – you talk to some people and they just focus on the negative. Hang on, let’s see what’s positive within this and let’s work with that. I’m definitely a ‘glass half full’ girl, and if there’s a spark of light there – and even if there’s not – I’ll do everything I can to create it.” (Amy, 2017)

Amy gave several examples of the power of positive reinforcement such as giving positive comments and compliments to people to make them feel better. Amy appeared to appreciate that micro-expressions, tone of voice etc all contributed to the positive (or negative) impact during personal interactions.

Leonora did not mix her words, saying that “People say it doesn’t exist, you just look at it, it all goes away because you want it to, and wave your arms and throw glitter everywhere. I think it’s the biggest load of rubbish I’ve ever heard in my life, and it’s dangerous.” (Leonora, 2018).

James has extensively quoted Dr. H. H. Goddard’s thesis on ‘the Effects of Mind on Body as evidenced by Faith Cures’ in the American Journal of Psychology for 1899 (vol.x) , where Goddard has acknowledged the beneficial impact of the mind on disease stating that “We have traced the mental element through primitive medicine and folk-medicine of to-day, patent medicine, and witchcraft.” (Goddard in James, 1928, p. 97). Goddard continues: “Christian Science, Divine Healing, or Mental Science do not, and never can in the very nature of things, cure all diseases; nevertheless, the practical applications of the broadest mental science will tend to prevent disease…” (Goddard in James, 1928, p. 97).James suggests of mind-cure that: “The fundamental pillar on which it rests is nothing more than the general basis of all religious experience, the fact that man has a dual nature, and is connected with two spheres of thought, a shallower and a profounder sphere, in either of which he may learn to live more habitually.” (James, 1928, p. 97)

^Circle work? As one sphere?

On the ‘shallower sphere’: “…fleshly sensations, instincts, and desires, of egotism, doubt, and the lower personal interests.” (James, 1928, p. 97), and quotes health food enthusiast Horace Fletcher, who has the idea that food should be chewed 100 times, on the negativity of fear/society’s obsession with fear (P.98-P.99).

Quotes Henry Wood (conductor?)

James draws similarities between the mind-cures and Christians but with the mind-cures: “Their notion of man’s higher nature is hardly less divergent, being decidedly pantheistic.” (James, 1928, p. 100). Paganism/pantheism

James quotes two acquaintances who subscribe to the ‘religion’ of mind-cure; both speak of recognising their continual connection to deity – their words recollect a sense of continual meditation on the divine which fills them with energy (P.102-P.103). Mindfulness? James reflects on mind-cure; that “Its doctrine of the oneness of our life with God’s life is in fact quite indistinguishable from an interpretation of Christ’s message…” (James, 1928, p. 105). He observes that while mind-cure acknowledges evil it does not pay it heed: “Christian Science so called, the sect of Mrs Eddy, is the most radical branch of mind-cure in its dealings with evil. For it evil is simply a lie [author’s indentation], and any one who mentions it is a liar.” (James, 1928, pp. 106-107).On mind-cure, he notes “This system is wholly and exclusively compacted of optimism…” (James, 1928, p. 107).

James’ observation was that “No one can fail of the regenerative influence of optimistic thinking, pertinaciously pursued. Every man owns indefensibly this inlet to the divine. Fear, on the contrary, and all the contracted and egoistic modes of thought, are inlets to destruction.” (James, 1928, p. 107) Golden Dawn – Fear is the forerunner of failure

“…one is struck by a psychological similarity between the mind-cure movement and the Lutheran and Weslyan movements.” (James, 1928, pp. 107-108)

^You just have to realise that you are already saved

James reflects “…whether it may not be destined…to play a part almost as great in the evolution of the popular religion of the future as did those earlier movements in their day.” (James, 1928, p. 108).

After the ‘active’ side of mind-cure, James looks at the other side; passivity.

“Give up the feeling of responsibility, let go your hold, resign the care of your destiny to higher powers, be genuinely indifferent as to what becomes of it all, and you will find not only that you gain a perfect inward relief, but also in addition, the particular goods you sincerely thought you were renouncing.” (James, 1928, p. 110)

“This is the salvation through self-despair, the dying to be truly reborn, of Lutheran theology…” (James, 1928, p. 110). How is Lutheran theology both optimistic (see previous highlight) and pessimistic?

James concludes that this path usually requires that a “…critical point must usually be passed, a corner turned within one. Something must give way…” (James, 1928, p. 110) ^A long dark night of the soul? “They know; for they have actually felt the higher powers [author’s indentation],” (James, 1928, p. 110)

“The mind-curers have given the widest scope to this sort of experience. They have demonstrated that a form of regeneration by relaxing, by letting go, psychologically indistinguishable from the Lutheran justification by faith and the Weslyan acceptance of free grace, is within the reach of persons who have no conviction of sin and care nothing for the Lutheran theology.” (James, 1928, p. 111)

*The argument of refusing to be ill because God wants us to be healthy against the idea of sickness being submissively accepted as an act of God from which to learn.

“The force of personal faith, enthusiasm, and example, and above all the force of novelty, are always the prime suggestive agency in this kind of success.” (James, 1928, p. 114)

Quotes several examples of passive mind-cure (P.115-P.116), and ponders how the practice is in anyway different to “…the practice pf ‘recollection’ which plays so great a part in the Catholic discipline?” (James, 1928, p. 116)

James was certain that the sceptic would be convinced “…that these states of consciousness of ‘union’ form a perfectly definite class of experiences,” (James, 1928, p. 118)


James talks of the scientist  “…or ‘positivists’, as they are fond of calling themselves…” (James, 1928, p. 118) who assert that science is superior to religion’s point of view because of its “…strict use of the method of experimental verification.” (James, 1928, p. 119).  James then uses an example of mind-cure “…with her diametrically opposite philosophy, setting up an exactly identical claim.” (James, 1928, p. 119) to show how “these primeval religious ideas” (P.120) are, at least at an individual level, to be experimentally verified much like science – indeed by “palpable experiential results” (P.120)

^and this is the issue; people may scoff at magick, etc but won’t do the work in order to experience the results…CROWLEY, THE MIND AS LABORATORY (Don’t blame me that your lab is a mess)

James’ intellectual position was that “I believe that the claims of the sectarian scientist are, to say the least, premature.” (James, 1928, p. 122), and further “What, in the end, are all our verifications but experiences that agree with more or less isolated systems of ideas (conceptual systems) that our minds have framed?” (James, 1928, p. 122). He reinforces his point with “But why in the name of common sense need we assume that only one such system of ideas can be true?” (James, 1928, p. 122).

He suggests that perhaps the world is sufficiently complex to consist of “many interesting spheres of reality” (James, 1928, p. 122) that can each be alternately approached by employing “different conceptions and assuming different attitudes” (James, 1928, pp. 122-123)

In a footnote: “What is certain now is the fact of lines of disparate conception, each corresponding to some part of the world’s truth, each verified in some degree, each leaving out some part of real experience.” (James, 1928, p. 123)

(Lectures 6 and 7)

The Sick Soul

James opens with a quote from Spinoza (P.128) on the erroneous nature of repentance, rand efers to the idea in Christian mind-science that “Repentance according to such healthy-minded Christians means getting away from the sin [author’s indentation], not groaning and writhing over its commission.” (James, 1928, p. 128). He compares this to the Catholic act of confession/absolution as being “…little more than a systematic method of keeping healthy-mindedness on top.” (James, 1928, p. 128).

He extensively quotes Martin Luther to demonstrate his (Luther’s) healthy mindedness (P.128-P.130) and then launches into the ‘sick soul’ via an exploration of theism, absolute idealism, and the notion of evil (P.130-P.133). James is clear that he is not so concerned with those who see evil as a ‘mal-adjustment’ that can be cured (P.134)

“But there are others for whom evil is no more relation of the subject to particular outer things, but something more radical and general, a wrongness or vice in his essential nature, which no alteration of the environment, or any superficial rearrangement of the inner self, can cure, and which requires a supernatural remedy.” (James, 1928, p. 134)

^Like ‘original sin’ or the Buddhist idea of existence is sorrow? RELATE BACK TO INTERVIEWEES WHO DO NOT SEE THE WORLD AS INHERENTLY EVIL

James raises the concept of ‘thresholds’ (tolerance) (P.134-P.135), and asks the question “Does it not appear as if one who lived more habitually on one side of the pain-threshold might need a different sort of religion from one who habitually lived on the other?” (James, 1928, p. 135). He quotes Goethe and his sadness, and then, almost to contradict himself, James’ quotes Luther’s misery (P.137) as a foil to his earlier quote on Luther’s healthy-mindedness. In a rather poetic twist, James observes that regardless of the power of healthy-mindedness, “…the skull will grin at the banquet.” (James, 1928, p. 141).

Having reflected on the pantheistic, naturalistic attitudes of ancient Greeks, James concludes (at least for the purpose of his argument) that they were inherently pessimistic (P.142-P.143). “They knew no joys comparable in quality of preciousness to those which we shall erelong see that Brahmans, Buddhists, Christians, Mohammedans, twice-born people whose religion is non-naturalistic, get from their several creeds of mysticism and renunciation.” (James, 1928, p. 143) Were the Dionystic/Bacchae sects (i.e the more orgiastic cults) pessimistic?

On the pessimistic/sick soul, James observes that “The individual must in his own person become the prey of a pathological melancholy.” (James, 1928, p. 145) which “…one seldom finds it in a healthy subject even where he is a victim of the most atrocious cruelties of outward fortune.” (James, 1928, p. 145).

Notes the ‘neurotic constitution’ of the pessimist (P.145)

“Since these experiences of melancholy are in the first instance absolutely private and individual, I can now help myself out with personal documents.” (James, 1928, p. 145)

^I propose the religious experience is ‘absolutely personal and individual’ too – EXCEPT IN INSTANCES OF ‘GROUP RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE’?

James provides numerous examples of the melancholic (P.145-P.164), noting that of the melancholic state of mind: “Querulousness of mind tends in fact rather towards irreligion; and it has played, so far as I know, no part whatever in the construction of religious systems.” (James, 1928, p. 149) Doubt that you doubt, doubt the goat-snake of doubt etc

Quoting Tolstoy’s My Confession as a primes example of the melancholic (*see next pages*), when speaking of love: “If it comes, it comes; if it does not, no process of reasoning can force it.” (James, 1928, p. 150)

^ much like religiousness – also see Crowley ‘the man in love…”

“In Tolstoy’s case the sense that life had any meaning whatever was for a time wholly withdrawn.” (James, 1928, p. 151)

^Whole world is changed for the worse, whereas for the convert the whole world is changed for the better

Tolstoy quote (P.153-P.155); profound sadness, bitterness, confusion

Tolstoy quote (P.156): all the while feeling the meaningless of existence outlined in previous quote (P.153-P.155), there was another emotion underpinning the negativity; a craving for God

James reflects on the result (seeing the underlying ‘good’) of this craving as a form of redemption, insofar as “The process is one of redemption, not of mere reversion to natural health, and the sufferer, when saved, is saved by what seems to him a second birth, a deeper kind of conscious being than he could enjoy before.” (James, 1928, p. 157). Quoting John Bunyan’s (P.157-P.158) self-loathing (author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, and Puritan preacher), Henry Alline “a devoted evangelist” (P.159) who “vividly describes the high-water mark of the religious melancholy…” (James, 1928, p. 159). Both Bunyan and Alline envy the beasts for having no soul to lose

James moves on to the more ‘panic’ based fear/melancholy quoting personal correspondence (P.160-P.161). One correspondent reflects “I have always thought that this experience of melancholia of mine had a religious bearing.” (PAGE?)

When asked by James to clarify, he replied “I mean that the fear was so invasive and powerful that if I had not clung to scripture-texts like ‘The eternal God is my refuge,’ etc., ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden,’ etc., ‘I am the resurrection and the. Life,’ etc., I think I should have grown really insane.” (James, 1928, p. 161) CHECK THESE PAGE NUMBERS  James summarises this melancholia as “…the vanity of mortal things…the sense of sin…[and] the fear of the universe…” (James, 1928, p. 161). “Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! Help!” (James, 1928, p. 162).

“But the deliverance must come in a strong a form as the complaint, if it is to take effect; and that seems a reason why the coarser religions, revivalistic, orgiastic, with blood and miracles and supernatural operations, may possibly never be displaced. Some constitutions need them too much.” (James, 1928, p. 162)

The healthy-minded are seen by the pessimists as “unspeakably blind and shallow” while the healthy minded see the ‘sick souls’ as “unmanly and diseased” (P.162).

James sees healthy-mindedness as a valid option (but only while it works) (P.163) though it is “…inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine portion of reality;” (James, 1928, p. 163), adding that “…they may after all be the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.” (James, 1928, p. 163).

James concludes these is ‘varieties’ with

“But provisionally, and as a mere matter of program and method, since the evil facts are as genuine parts of nature as the good ones, the philosophic presumption should be that they have some rational significance, and that systematic healthy-mindedness, failing as it does to accord sorrow, pain, and death any positive and active attention whatever, is formally less complete than systems that try at least to include these elements in their scope.” (James, 1928, p. 165)

^Witchcraft (in all forms that I have seen thus far – fluffy bunnies aside!) does not ignore this ‘evil’ but does not dwell on it

^James points out that Buddhism and Christianity are prime examples of religions that do not ignore this ‘evil’ (P.165)

“They are essentially religions of deliverance; the man must die to an unreal life before he can be born into the real life.” (James, 1928, p. 165)