The Reality of Atlantis, part 3 of 3

Continued from part 2:

photo of Edgar Cayce superimposed over AtlantisAfter tracking the story of Atlantis through history and into the 20th century, I did discover where my particular alien-infused, clairvoyant, crystal-powered, clone-making, reincarnating Atlantis memories originated. Though my story had its own unique features, the story itself came from the famed 20th-century clairvoyant, Edgar Cayce.

However, I first began dreaming and writing about my remembered past life in Atlantis when I was eleven or twelve years old — and at that time, I had not yet read anything by or about Edgar Cayce. So the question became “How did Edgar’s story get implanted into my memories? How did the story of Atlantis get from Edgar to me?”

Raised on a diet of Edgar Cayce

I digress: Back in 2003, while I was still struggling to understand my involvement in the New Age, I found Bob Carroll’s Skeptic’s Dictionary site, and ordered a number of his recommended books on metaphysical topics. Since a great deal of my life in the New Age was focused on alternative health practices and alternative diets, I ordered Mystical Diets: Paranormal, Spiritual, and Occult Nutrition Practices by Jack Raso.

Bingo!

Raso presented a bullet list (pp.75-76) of health advice from Edgar Cayce, and some of it was identical to advice I and my family received from the trance-medium Purcell (for instance, the 80-20 rule of raw-to-cooked foods and alkaline-to-acid foods is Cayce’s idea). I’ve since discovered that pieces of the dietary and lifestyle advice I got from Kan Li and Purcell were Cayce-inspired but not Cayce-attributed. I’m not suggesting plagiarism, because it’s pretty easy for people to lift ideas from others without realizing it — but some of the info Purcell channeled from Kan Li was actually was sourced from Cayce.

photo of the pharaoh Akhenaton

The Pharaoh Akhenaton, or, as I knew him, Dad.

And though I hadn’t read any Cayce before I recalled the details of my own past life in Cayce’s version of Atlantis, reincarnation was normal everyday talk in our spiritual group. One of Purcell’s ideas was that our group members had known each other in many shared past lives where we had all worked together to bring about great changes in human consciousness. That’s what we were all doing in Atlantis, and it’s what we did in Egypt at the time of Akhenaton (who banished Egypt’s polytheism in favor of the worship of one god and purportedly paved the way for Jesus). We were also together in Camelot, trying to change things for the better. We got around!

In the late 1970s, before Purcell’s group self-destructed, our present-day spiritual purpose was to raise planetary consciousness before the coming cataclysm (which I wrote about on my other blog: Why did you believe in the end of the world?). Since that prophesied cataclysm didn’t occur, I’m gonna go ahead and say that we achieved our goals (this is a joke!).  You’re welcome. Continue reading

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The Reality of Atlantis, part 2

Continued from part 1:

So, in the original story of the island kingdom of Atlantis (which was recounted in 500 C. E. by Plato’s uncle Solon), the five sets of twin sons of the god Poseidon intermarried with mortals, forgot their godly powers, and started acting like foolish, selfish humans. In anger and extreme disappointment, Zeus (the god over all Greek gods) destroyed Atlantis and wiped all traces of the island and its civilization from our world.

photo of mythical gryphon

Oh, he’s real – real awesome!

Spoiler: Atlantis was not a physical island in the actual world. I don’t say that it’s not a real place, because as the existence of thousands of books, stories, myths, poems, plays, ships, games, and movies about Atlantis has shown us, Atlantis has maintained a powerful hold on human imagination for centuries. It still does today. Atlantis is therefore not unreal. Atlantis is real in its own way; it has a reality that is mythical in nature.

Accessing the Mythical Imagination

Some people have the idea that myth = false. In their minds, a myth is not true, so therefore, we can ignore it. But that idea displays a stunning lack of imagination.

One of my favorite mythologists, Michael Meade, has said that enduring myths (such as creation myths and morality tales) are actually more true about human nature than regular stories are, because they’ve been through so many minds and so many retellings that all of the local or non-universal threads have been clipped off. After a certain number of decades (or centuries, in the case of the Atlantis mythology), what you end up with is an enduring story that speaks poetically to deep aspects of the human condition. Conventional stories simply can’t touch the soul in the way enduring myths do.

In my work with emotions and empathy, I make a distinction between the words imaginary, which means something that doesn’t exist, and imaginal, which means something that exists in the poetic, artistic, and mythic imagination. Of course, these two categories of imaginal and imaginary overlap, but there are important distinctions. Continue reading

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The Reality of Atlantis, part 1

photo of The Legend of AtlantisThough the tale of Atlantis and its fall has captivated people since Plato’s time (500 CE), Atlantis has special significance in the New Age subculture. It is not uncommon for two complete strangers in the New Age to meet and share remarkably similar stories of the rise and fall of Atlantis.

There is also a significant subset of New Age people who have memories of their own past lives in Atlantis. These memories invariably include stories about the advanced clairvoyant civilization on Atlantis and the unusual technologies used on the island (which are thought to include crystal-based power generation, lasers, flying machines, and cloning technology). The Atlantean culture, in these memories, was also influenced by extra-terrestrial or otherworldly entities. The eventual downfall of this advanced culture, in the New Age retelling of the story, was reportedly caused by the Atlanteans themselves, who courted their own demise (and the sinking of their island) by repeatedly breaking the laws of nature and attempting to attain godlike powers.

Since the story of Atlantis essentially catapulted me out of the New Age and back into college, my first self-directed research study traced the actual origins of the story of Atlantis — not merely in history, but also in the popular imagination. I wanted to know the real story of Atlantis and to discover when and where the very specific New Age stories of the magical, crystal-powered, psychic, alien-infused culture of Atlantis came into existence. Continue reading

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Science vs. Religion and Other False Dichotomies

In the early days of unraveling my New Age career, I felt that if I could just find a way to help my readers understand and access critical thinking, I’d be doing a great service. I struggled to devise ways to introduce and then link to cultural skeptic’s sites (such as The Skeptic’s Dictionary or The Skeptical Inquirer, etc.)  from my own website, but I couldn’t find the words to prepare my readers for the painful experience I knew they were in for.

The communication style in the skeptical culture tends toward mockery and condescension (words such as fraud, sham, scam, dupe, charlatan, etc. are used regularly), and it can be a very harsh experience. I think I mocked up nearly a dozen web pages before I finally gave up in 2004 and pulled my entire website down for five years. There was just no way to bridge the chasm with words.

Since then, I’ve studied what I now call “conflict cultures”* of all kinds: skeptics versus New Agers; liberals versus conservatives; pro-choicers versus pro-lifers; Israelis versus Palestinians; Muslims versus Christians; atheists versus theists, and so forth. Though each conflict may seem distinct, the behavior of the people within the conflict tends to be similar — if not identical.

*Sociologically speaking, a culture is any group of people who consider themselves unified by shared referents. A culture can be as large as the human culture, or as small as the drama club at your local middle school. A subculture is generally regarded as a group that unifies around differences from the norm, as minority groups, disability rights groups, high IQ clubs, and political parties do. My term conflict culture refers to a subculture that organizes itself around opposition, as the New Age and skeptical subcultures do, rather than mere difference.

photo of an angry mobConflict cultures tend to encourage intense loyalty and cohesion because they have something to fight against. No matter which conflict culture you belong to, you can easily become ideologically enslaved; you may devolve into a true believer. You’ll learn to categorize and dehumanize people who do not share your views, and you’ll attack them as a matter of supposed honor. True believers and the behaviors they adopt can make the world a very ugly place indeed.

I know; I was a true believer as a young person. Western* medicine was cruel; science was hyper-rationalism divorced from ethics; the AMA was evil; the New Age and the East and alternative medicine had all the answers; nothing in the health food store could hurt you, but all conventional medicines were poison…

*My brother Matthew can’t hear the phrase Western medicine without laughing, because it brings up visions of cowboys riding into town, yee-ha! and whompin’ folks over the head with healin’.  I now call it conventional medicine so that Matthew won’t start giggling.

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10. Neither a Traitor nor a Reformed Sinner

As I wrote in Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures, I didn’t have a crisis of faith. I had a crisis of conscience, which is a very different thing indeed.

After that essay was published, I was branded as a traitor by many in the New Age. That was hard, but also sadly predictable, since people often read only enough to rile themselves up and cement their current views. However, it was interesting to contrast the reaction of my former New Age compatriots to the reactions I received from many skeptics.*

*I’m going to make a distinction here between cultural skeptics and people who are skeptical because it’s normal to be. We’re all skeptics, and we’re all skeptical; you don’t have to join a group to be skeptical. Skepticism is a function of having a brain, but a cultural skeptic is someone who identifies strongly with the skeptical culture, knows what skeptics are supposed to know, and shares a reliable set of references with other cultural skeptics.

When I wrote my essay, I unconsciously adopted the style of Shakespeare’s “Friend, Romans, countrymen…” speech, where I came in under the defenses of cultural skeptics, called myself out as their enemy, and told them I agreed with them. However, I also gently but persistently asked them why they were such complete failures at communicating their concerns. The response from the skeptical community was amazing. I only got one crank letter, and the rest were from smart and contemplative people who could not only take a punch, but actually suggested that I hit a little harder next time.

It was very freeing to write for people who weren’t thin-skinned, because my experience of the sensitivities of the New Age reader meant that I had to be so careful that I almost couldn’t write at all. Writing dissent material from inside the New Age (where dissent, judgment, and critical discernment are considered rude, unspiritual, and hyper-intellectual) was a linguistic challenge, but I think I did it fairly well.

When I wrote my piece for the Skeptical Inquirer, it was nice to take off the gloves somewhat, say some very challenging things, and then have readers take the challenge and run with it. It was fun to have people actually ask to be argued with and challenged!

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9. Unraveling

After nearly two years of study (and that final wake-up call from my Atlantean pelvis alien), I was so alarmed by the implications of my support of New Age ideas that I slammed the brakes on my career.

I cancelled all of my workshops, stopped doing consultations, edited my website, and turned down a number of book contracts. I made these changes as quietly as possible because I knew I’d get very little support or understanding from anyone. I also cleaned out my snail-mail and e-mail files and reread thousands of pieces of correspondence from people all over the globe.

Until I did that – until I reread all of those letters and e-mails in a row, I hadn’t noticed how alike they were. They were all from New Age people who – no matter their age, gender, educational status, or nationality – were wrestling with the same basic difficulties in protecting themselves from misinformation, untestable claims, untrained teachers and healers, and general confusion (including confusion about my work, which veered significantly from many accepted New Age ideas).

photo of Sisyphus and his rockI had originally responded to each of these concerns as unique, and when I answered each one, I know I was thinking to myself: If I can just write well enough, if I can just present models that will help people think clearly, if I can just help people find safe resources, if I can just….

I see now that I was like Sisyphus of the Greek myth, endlessly pushing a rock up a hill, only to watch it fall back down every time I got to the top. Though I meant well and was honestly trying to protect people, I finally saw that I was doing no lasting good.

I saw that by just using New Age jargon, or talking about unverifiable metaphysical concepts of energy, or imagining that there is another world and that people survive beyond death, I was helping people maintain their confirmation biases and support their motivated reasoning.

The ideas of the New Age are interesting, but they unfortunately exist within a framework that can invite all sorts of confusing and even damaging information into people’s lives. Though I realized that people needed to be responsible for themselves, and that I didn’t hold a hypnotic sway over my readers, my concerns were intensified because I knew my audience. I knew that many people in the New Age, spirituality, and metaphysics were there because they were in pain, because they didn’t fit in, or because they hadn’t been able to find help or comfort anywhere else.

It’s important to understand that alternatives become necessary when the conventional fails.

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8. The fundamentals of a fundamental disagreement

photo of street signs called Faith and ReasonLet’s make a long, long story very, very short. What was going on in the total disconnect between scientific definitions of energy and New Age definitions was not connected to poor scholarship, misunderstandings, lies, duplicity, ignorance, delusions, or fraud. What I had stumbled onto was not just a personality clash between differing viewpoints – no.

This was a complete and fundamental disagreement about how the world worked and why.

In this disagreement, New Age and spiritual communities supported one set of ideas about the spiritual world and supernatural reality – while scientific and skeptical communities supported another set of ideas about the physical world and natural reality. And the twain not only did not meet; they didn’t even live in the same universe. And they certainly didn’t use the same tools of scientific inquiry.

For instance, when many New Age researchers study meditation, they will often test long-time meditators and then release glowing studies about the benefits of meditation (the same is true for prayer). I had always questioned those studies (even though I prayed and meditated) because they didn’t correct for any variables by testing other, non-meditative stillness-inducing activities* such as reading, resting, drawing, daydreaming, or walking in nature.

*One study from 1999 finally tested meditation against knitting and found that both produced similar improvements in heart rates, blood pressure, breathing rates, and subjective reports of relaxation.  I laughed at the time, because if I had been one of the knitting subjects, I would have disproved the benefits by cussing profusely at my needles.  I can’t knit!  However, the study had legs, because in May of 2011, a Google search of “meditation and knitting” returned over 3.5 million results (up from 2 million in August of 2008), including knitting meditation groups, Buddhist knitting groups, Yoga knitting groups with special knitting poses, spiritual knitting groups for men, knitting meditation blogs by the dozens, and numerous books on using knitting, prayer, and meditation together.  Favorite title: Knitting into the Mystery: A Guide to the Shawl-Knitting Ministry.

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