The Secular Shaman
WRITTEN BY ROBERT ANTON WILSON – 1971
The first claims of extraterrestrial communication, I had found, were made by the electronics pioneers Marconi and Tesla. Both were ridiculed and simply stopped discussing the subject.
Tesla is an especially interesting case for our purposes. Many (including his principal biographer) regarded Tesla as virtually superhuman, and yet he was so naïve in practical matters that he was cheated again and again by the businessmen to whom he sold his inventions. Tesla’s major goal in life was to make abundant energy so cheap that all the world would live in affluence; he came so close to this in his later work that the corporations which had funded him withdrew their support, fearing he would undermine the monopolies which made them rich. He is also one of the only two men to have refused the Nobel Prize (the other was Jean-Paul Sartre).
Tesla’s greatest discovery was the mechanism by which alternating current can be electrically generated and used; far more than Edison’s direct-current machines, Tesla’s A.C. generators unleashed the modern technological revolution. This illumination came to Tesla in a series of quasi-mystical visions during his adolescence. The key events were:
- The visions themselves, in some of which Tesla literally went into a trance and talked to entities nobody else could see.
- A series of mysterious illnesses between the visions. In some of these, Tesla became acutely sensitive and felt all perceptions as painful (colors were too bright, noises too loud, etc.). Several times, Tesla nearly died of an apparent draining-away of life energy which his doctors simply couldn’t explain.
- After the final vision, in which Tesla “saw” that everything in the universe obeys the law of Octaves, Tesla was transformed into a kind of secular seer. He developed a most peculiar inner vision. He could literally “see” in perfect detail any machine he thought about, right down to the microscopic measurements and dimensions, as if he were using actual tools to measure an actual machine. He patented dozens of these devices and became a millionaire before he was 30.
Compare this with the experience of Gopi Krishna, a typical yoga adept.
- Like Tesla, Gopi Krishna had a series of visions and illuminations over a period of years.
- Like Tesla, Gopi Krishna simultaneously suffered a series of mysterious illnesses, almost died several times, and occasionally became painfully sensitive to all sensations.
- After the final vision, Gopi Krishna became a psychic prodigy, able to write poetry in several languages which he couldn’t read or speak normally.
We seem to see the same mutational process occurring in both cases, slightly modified by cultural influences. Take it on a broader scale:
- In every tribe there are occasional shamans who are prone to visions and illuminations.
- These shamans usually begin having their visions during or right after a prolonged illness which nearly kills them.
- After recovery, the shaman has odd psychic abilities – “wild talents,” as Charles Fort said.
The whole process can be condensed to the formula, near-death plus “rebirth” on a higher level.
In the course of my investigations, I have undergone a number of occult initiations and have become aware of the basic similarity of such rituals in all traditions. This is the pattern of death-rebirth which even today appears symbolically in the Roman Catholic Mass and the Masonic “raising” ceremony. The Investigator is betraying no secret when we say that, in serious occult orders, such performances are not mere rituals but real ordeals. Insofar as possible within the law, the candidate is often brought to a state of terror similar to the emergency condition of the nervous system in near-death crises. What occurs then, and is experienced as rebirth, is a quantum jump in neurological awareness. In Leary’s terminology, new circuits are formed and imprinted.
Obviously, the first shamans had no teachers; they simply went through the illness-rebirth transition accidentally, as it were. Later, schools of shamans developed techniques (psychedelics, rituals of terror, yoga, etc.) to catapult the student into the experience. In most of these schools there is great reliance on an entity or entities of superhuman nature who aid in the initiatory process, sometimes for years. (“A real initiation never ends,” Crowley said once.)
Tesla, incidentally, remained a strict Materialist all his life. When his biographer pointed out to him once that Tesla’s own ESP had been demonstrated on numerous occasions, Tesla replied that ESP also had a material medium.
Obviously, the whole shamanic process of near-death and rebirth on a higher level will become commonplace by the 1990s, if Leary is right and we have then both a Simulated Death pill and an Immortality pill.