Part 1 of 2
Alan W. Watts
Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion
New York: Pantheon, 1947; reissued with a new Preface, 1971
“For God is not niggardly in his self-revelation; he exposes himself right before our eyes.” — Alan Watts
“What was needed was not some new religious cult but some simple way of accessing religious or mystical experience, of the sort that must have been known to the monks and cathedral-builders of the Middle Ages.” — Colin Wilson
Praise be to Amazon! Thanks to their Kindle technology, I’ve been able to relocate here to Central Europe and bring most of my library with me!
Contrary to the fears of the Luddites, new technologies do not – at least, not always – destroy or occlude the products of a previous technological stage; in fact, as McLuhan pointed out, the content of a new medium is the old medium.
Thus printing did not replace manuscripts but made them accessible (thereby eliminating the need for universities, as McLuhan also pointed out). Greedy record companies, desperate for content, issued collections of 78s on LPs (and later, LPs on CD); thus did Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, 3 double LP sets, rescue dozens of pre-War artists from obscurity, and sparked the “folk music revival.”
Speaking only for myself, I can say that the development of the epub technology, specifically Amazon’s Kindle, has not only made whole libraries available for free or minimal cost (including mountains of un-PC Old Right, New Right, etc. materials hitherto moldering in barns, warehouses and filing cabinets), but has also made even books much easier to read, and thus more read.
Case in point: Alan Watts, and the book under review.
After discovering the works of Alan Watts in the early ’70s, in the form of Sunday morning radio broadcasts, I proceeded to compulsively acquire and read his books, from the earliest – The Spirit of Zen: A Way of Life, Work, and Art in the Far East (1936, at the age of 21) – to his most recent, the posthumous collection Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal (1973) and Tao: The Watercourse Way (1975), a collaboration with calligrapher Chungliang Al Huang who also finished the text after Watts’ death in 1973. Eventually, I even acquired some obscure incunabula, such as his hand-written The Art of Contemplation: A Facsimile Manuscript with Doodle (1972), and even a reprint of his translation of the 1944 Theologia Mystica: Being the Treatise of Saint Dionysius, Pseudo-Areopagite, on Mystical Theology, Together with the First and Fifth Epistles.
Among those works was, of course, Behold the Spirit (1947), which had also been recently reprinted with a new, rather diffident, Preface from Watts. Like the similar preface to his later, Traditionalist work, The Supreme Identity: An Essay on Oriental Metaphysic and the Christian Religion (1950), it gave Watts’ current views, while almost seeming to discourage anyone from reading the main text.
That was fine with me; I was happy enough to read his latest thoughts, and keep the book proudly displayed with the others. And so it remained, until the kindle went on sale for $1.99, and I decided to free up some space and maybe finally take a look-see.
That rascal guru! That wily old shaman! He hid the best stuff in plain view!
Incredibly, I wager that most all of what would become his most characteristic themes, memes and crochets can be found here:
Union with Reality/God/Brahman etc. is and must be a present reality because it is timeless;
Therefore, any attempt to “get” or “become” it must fail, as such an attempt is based on the false assumption of its present lack; all such traditional “methods” (meditation, prayer, sacraments, etc.) must be understood rather as expressions of joy and gratitude for what is;
In fact, the frenzied pursuit of anything – especially life itself – is the surest way to lose it.
Nature/Reality/the Universe cannot be “analyzed” from some position of supposed separation and superiority; the attempt to do so results in a model of reality as a meaningless machine or collection of disconnected bits, a distortion and even outright illusion, no matter how much scientists and others perversely insist on it being “the way things really are.”
To avoid spiritual and perhaps historical catastrophe, Western Man must abandon the false alternatives of rugged materialism and prissy spiritualism and develop a thoroughgoing spiritual materialism.
And so on; but expressed in the language of Christian theology – specifically, “the central principle of the Christian mythos, the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Word made flesh” – and in the manner of 1940s-era Christian lay observers and popular theologians, a bit like C. S. Lewis or Fulton Sheen, but with a considerable amount of the formidable intellect and range of reference of an Etienne Gilson or Jacques Maritain.
Watts writes as a Thomist, but one who’s read at least Coomaraswamy, if not Guenon (but certainly not Evola), although the book makes no references to Traditionalism and Traditionalists as such (unlike his next book, The Supreme Identity), and the text is the stronger, more compelling, and less dated, for that reason.
According to Wikipedia, where the book has its own mini-article,
This book is the most extensive example of his early effort to find a non-dualistic interpretation of Anglican theology in terms of The Perennial Philosophy as expounded in Aldous Huxley’s contemporary work of that name and later made popular in the talks of Joseph Campbell. … Its importance lies partly in its exposition of Watts’ earliest attempt to reconcile traditional Anglican theology with a mystical, Buddhist based approach, but also as a personal expression of the mystical experience.
Incredibly, this was apparently written as a master’s thesis (M. Div., Seabury Theological); which becomes even more amazing when you remember that this is the only earned degree Watts every acquired, even beforehand. That’s right, Watts never acquired a B.A., and pretty much never attended a college or university; his ability to simply enter a theological seminary and master its contents within a few months might, with some modesty, be a tribute to the value of a British public school education as well as native ability.
Impressive enough as a demonstration of academic pseudomorphism, and providing a bit of nostalgia for those of us who lived through similar environments, it does show the corresponding vices. In particular, one notes the tendency – academic, but itself a function of the Scholasticism that formed the modern academy – to spell everything out, hunt down every last detail and implication, and delight in restating positions in one new way after another. One is certainly glad that the post-academic Watts pruned back this sort of thing considerably.
The New Right reader who lacks such a background may nevertheless be able to get a grip or find a foothold here, and may even be at an advantage, as Watts starts off rather boldly by dabbling in the idea of “world ages” a la Spengler or Joachim of Flores (the origin of the “Third Whatever” meme) or the (unknown and unmentioned) Yockey; a fairly brave choice, at a time when all things German were identified with Prussian martinets if not outright Nazis, and indicative of Watts’ surprising (to some) Rightist sympathies (of which more anon).
In his 1971 Preface Watts downplays his talk of world ages in the opening chapter, saying he no longer believes in historical timetables and “New Ages,” but the New Right reader may well find his discussion of Spengler of some interest today. Just as Yockey tried to re-tool Spengler’s Caesarism into a revival of Imperium rather than a dead end, so Watts modifies Spengler’s idea of the Second Religiosity.
Due to what Watts calls an “exceedingly superficial philosophy” and “a certain emotional immaturity,” Spengler
Sees that the Second Religiousness employs the “Springtime” or infancy forms of religion, but does not seem to realize that they are understood in a new, interior and spiritually creative sense.
Where Spengler can only see regression to decadent or infantilized forms of a culture’s original spirituality, a period of mush-minded mysticism, Watts observes that it is in such “decadent” periods that “the profoundest spirituality of the human race” appears (such Plotinus or Augustine). Thus, for Watts, the Third Age is one of maturity and wisdom, not sclerosis and senility; and he points out that Christianity itself is a product of the Second Religiousness of Judaism, “giving a mystical and interior interpretation to the primitive religion of the law and the sacrificial worship of the Temple.”
In the stage of infancy, the church’s moral teaching is of necessity authoritarian and legalistic. In adolescence, intensely earnest and self-consciously heroic, following after extremely lofty ideals. In maturity, we return somewhat to earth, and find the source of morality neither in external authority, nor in remote ideals, but in the consciousness of God himself in the heart.
Before unpacking the Third Age, and that “new, interior and spiritually creative sense,” let’s try to understand what Watts is doing here. First, it is necessary to grasp what he is not doing. He isn’t trying to prune away from Catholic Christianity some supposedly man-made or “pagan” accretions, in order to arrive at a “primitive” gospel message, presumably all about Jesus, and thus both intensely personal and unique among world religions (“No man comes to the Father…”). Nor is he trying to interest secular adults, or “the kids,” in a revamped Christianity more in tune with science or hip musical genres.
Watts has no problems with “pagan” elements (see next book, Easter – Its Story and Meaning) – Christianity has always welcomed wisdom wherever it may be found, and these are its strongest, most vital periods — nor any interest in proving the “uniqueness” of Christianity (“what is the interest in a reanimated corpse?” he asks).
The best approach might be to look at his subtitle and ask “why, or how, is mysticism necessary?” I would suggest it is necessary in two senses: it is a logically or psychologically necessary next step; and it is what is needed for religion to survive today.
Everyone knows (in 1947) the Church is dead or dying. There are plenty of remedies promoted, but they are all inadequate, because they are ad hoc, purely human solutions that take for granted that the Church is just another man-made institution that needs ongoing maintenance, like a bridge or subway. But if the Church is understood as “part of a God-controlled design of history” it must be understood to be undergoing a necessary, organic development along with and promoting the development of human consciousness.
In other words, as consciousness develops, so does religion.
Watts’ developmental model – Father, Son, Holy Spirit — is basically mapped onto Western Church history: Roman Catholic, Protestant and … what? To see the needed, necessary next step let’s first unpack the first two stages.
Roman Catholicism is the religion of man’s childhood, where the soul is satisfied with mere symbols, the assurance given by authorities that something happened somewhere that will make everything alright, if one just believes hard enough.
Protestantism is the religion of adolescence: rebellious, rejecting authority, requiring that things be written down (sola scriptura) and exhaustively explained (daily four hour sermons), like other honest business transactions (a religion of shopkeepers); and above all demanding the inner meaning of doctrine and dogma, not mere passive acceptance.
Protestantism goes along with modern science, and while both have provided us with much of values (hospitals, clean water, etc.), the downside has been considerable.The method of scientific analysis (as the word would indeed seem to imply) leaves us with a “world” made up of random bits, producing nihilism – once you dissect the frog, it’s not a frog anymore — while the obsessive examination of conscience produces an infinite regress or vicious circle of guilt and pride, leading to existential despair. 
Here we see what will be two of Watts’ favorite memes, the “gyrating stupidity” (as he calls it in Beyond Theology) of modern materialism, and the “double bind dilemma” of trying to be good, trying to achieve enlightenment, trying to answer the Zen koan, etc., which can only be “solved” if “dissolved” by being pursued to exhaustion — like Sambo’s tigers — and the subsequent giving up the futile struggle and just letting things be.
But before exhausting ourselves as well, let’s take a break, with a little something I call “Excursus on Cradle Catholics.”
Excursus: Cradle Catholics
“And stay away from Anglo-Catholics; they are all Sodomites with atrocious accents.”
-– Brideshead Revisited
Despite Watts’ repeated warnings that designating states of consciousness as pertaining to childhood or adolescence carries no intent to denigrate them – children are not failed adults – some, particularly Catholics themselves, may find it insulting or perhaps just inaccurate to locate Roman Catholicism in the childhood category.
It is interesting to note that some confirmation of this picture from a source contemporaneous with Watts and his book, and from the same “Catholic” (again, in Watt’s sense of Roman Catholic – Anglican) milieu: Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. In particular, the main characters seem to embody Watts’ notion of the Catholic state of mind.
Take young Sebastian, here being interrogated by his new friend, Charles, exemplifying the mutual incomprehension of the Catholic child and Protestant adolescent:
‘But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.’
‘I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.’
‘Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.’
‘But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.’
‘But I do. That’s how I believe.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘if you can believe all that and you don’t want to be good, where’s the difficulty about your religion?’
‘If you can’t see, you can’t’
‘Oh, don’t be a bore, Charles. I want to read about a woman in Hull who’s been using an instrument.’ 
Sebastian clearly has imbibed his religious ideas (if one can call them that) from his mother, Lady Marchmain:
I [Charles again] said something about a camel and the eye of a needle and she rose happily to the point.
‘But of course,” she said, ‘it’s very unexpected for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but the gospel is simply a catalogue of unexpected things. It’s not to be expected that an ox and an ass should worship at the crib. Animals are always doing the oddest things in the lives of the saints. It’s all part of the poetry, the Alice-in-Wonderland side, of religion.’ 
No surprise she entertains the family with evening readings of Chesterton.
By contrast, the eldest son, “Bridey” (the Earl of Brideshead; no Christian name ever provided), manifests childhood in the nerd register – unworldly, self-absorbed, impolite and impolitic, yet so obsessed with dogma and ritual that the family feared he might become a priest. As Anthony Blanche tells us:
“There’s Brideshead who’s something archaic, out of a cave that’s been sealed for centuries. He has the face as though an Aztec sculptor had attempted a portrait of Sebastian; he’s a learned bigot, a ceremonious barbarian, a snow-bound lama. . . . Well, anything you like.”
This combination of the primitive and the learned perfectly instantiates what Watts describes as the Catholic attempt to emulate Protestant moral seriousness, resulting in the dreary Puritanism of the Irish or French Catholics. Indeed, it is Bridey who carelessly (in both senses) triggers off the moral climax of the novel when he smugly points out his new wife can’t possibly share a roof with his adulterous sister Julia:
‘You must understand that Beryl is a woman of strict Catholic principle fortified by the prejudices of the middle class. I couldn’t possibly bring her here. It is a matter of indifference whether you choose to live in sin with Rex or Charles or both — I have always avoided inquiry into the details of your menage — but in no case would Beryl consent to be your guest.’ 
Bridey’s having “always avoided inquiry into the details” is a remnant of the moral laxity (from the Protestant viewpoint) of the traditional Catholic; his father’s mistress, Cara, is an Italian who voices the more relaxed attitudes of the South:
‘I know of these romantic friendships of the English and the Germans. They are not Latin. I think they are very good if they do not go on too long.’
‘It is a kind of love that comes to children before they know its meaning. In England it comes when you are almost men; I think I like that. It is better to have that kind of love for another boy than for a girl. Alex [Lord Brideshead] you see had it for a girl, for his wife.’ 
And this brings us back to a celebrated passage at the start of the novel, as Charles describes his first summer with Sebastian, sounding both notes of childhood and moral laxity:
Descent or ascent? It seems to me that I grew younger daily with each adult habit that I acquired. I had lived a lonely childhood and a boyhood straitened by war and overshadowed by bereavement; to the hard bachelordom of English adolescence, the premature dignity and authority of the school system, I had added a sad and grim strain of my own. Now, that summer term with Sebastian, it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence. 
Implicit here and in Cara’s comments is the idea of an indulgence toward childhood romances that are expected to transition into a respectable adulthood, as illustrated by Charles’ passage from Sebastian to his sister Julia. Even this might be seen as analogous to Watts’ model of consciousness maturing through several levels, each worthy in itself; what must be avoided is becoming stuck or even attempting to regress:
‘Sebastian is in love with his own childhood. That will make him very unhappy. His teddy-bear, his nanny … and he is nineteen years old.’ 
The Catholic with his rosary, the Protestant with his rigid moral code; these are expired and unacceptable models for a truly modern mind. Rather than regressing to former modes, religion must rediscover the Spirit again, now at a higher level, thanks to the long pilgrimage through adolescence. Perhaps Waugh is making that point too, as Charles “revisits” Brideshead (the house, not the Earl) years later, having put aside both Sebastian and Julia:
There was one part of the house I had not yet visited, and I went there now. The chapel showed no ill-effects of its long neglect; the art-nouveau paint was as fresh and bright as ever; the art-nouveau lamp burned once more before the altar. I said a prayer, an ancient, newly-learned form of words, and left, turning towards the camp; and as I walked back, and the cook-house bugle sounded ahead of me, I thought:
‘The builders did not know the uses to which their work would descend; they made a new house with the stones of the old castle; year by year, generation after generation, they enriched and extended it; year by year the great harvest of timber in the park grew to ripeness; until, in sudden frost, came the age of Hooper [i.e., secular materialism]; the place was desolate and the work all brought to nothing; Quomodo sedet sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
‘And yet,’ I thought, … that is not the last word; it is not even an apt word; it is a dead word from ten years back.
‘Something quite remote from anything the builders intended, has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time; a small red flame — a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.’
As a result of his more developed consciousness, modern man demands the meaning of the doctrine, not more or more sophisticated doctrine; and certainly not a “return to tradition.” Modern man needs not dogma but what dogma means; the thing itself. This is the maturing of man’s spiritual consciousness, a development to be encouraged as being the whole point of the enterprise, not a “deviation” to be fought against and turned aside.
The task of Protestantism was to break the shell, though because the Protestants did not fully realize this and did not know about the fruit inside, the job has been inexpertly and irreverently done.
They have hammered away with gusto; they have cracked the entire surface; they have taken whole chunks of the shell right off, and, having thrown some of them away, have taken the rest into a corner and there tried to piece them together in a different form. But the fruit has not interested them. Protestantism has simply broken up the system of symbolism, reduced it and re-formed it, and, in these later times, has practically discarded the whole thing. The time has come for us to attend to the long-neglected fruit. (p. 41)
For Protestantism, misdirected though it has been, was nevertheless a necessary movement, needed in order that the “shell” of dogma, passively accepted by the Roman Catholic, be cracked, and the kernel obtained and brought to fruition within ourselves. 
Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
Hence, the periodic, now (as then) on the upswing interest in various “mystical” teachings, foreign and domestic; a legitimate but misconceived quest; Watts agrees with Spengler in discounting what today we would call “New Age” spirituality as immature, unhistorical, and often implicitly if not explicitly Gnostic and hence retrograde.
Would that these seekers knew that the Catholic Christianity has its own, vastly more sophisticated spiritual techniques; but how can they find out, when even the Church itself, in the person of its ministers, doesn’t know anymore?
To remedy this, Watts turns to the late stages of other cultures – including our own late Classical period, whose mature wisdom gave birth to early Christianity – to try to suggest the inner meaning of the Christian mythos, the actual experience of the Holy Spirit.
In the great ages of Christian thought theology has always been able to embrace and absorb alien systems much to its own enrichment. In fact, every great advance in Christian theology has involved the absorption of an alien philosophy…. It is not too much to predict that the next great step in Christian theology will be due, in part, to the absorption of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and, perhaps, Mohammedan Sufiism, all of which are profoundly mystical religions. (p.53)
For purposes of this review essay, I’ve tried to distill the logical outline of the book, but I have to say that apart from a superficial structure of chapters and topics, and local arguments on particular points, it doesn’t really have an overall vector that marches the reader from Point A to Point B until the reader is forced to accept some predetermined conclusions; but rather drift from moment to moment, in which various themes, points of view and images are introduced and revisited as seems necessary; which, as we’ll see, is appropriate to a number of those themes, such as the importance of living in the moment, and the freedom of man to accept God’s offer of union or not.
In any event, as I’ve said, the real fascination here is how early, and how well, Watts was able to formulate most of what would become his signature tropes or memes in the language of traditional Catholic Christianity.
But I certainly don’t mean to suggest there is anything boring or repetitive here. Even at this early point in his career, Watts seems to be incapable of writing a dull page, or even paragraph. As already suggested, the interest here is in how easily Watts expresses, in purely Christian language, most of the memes he would propagate during his career as a “New Age” or even “hippie” lecturer.
His use of the nondualist school of the Hindu Vedanta to explain how the Christian God is a superior conception to any “pantheistic” deity, by being able to create real, “other” beings while still remaining indivisible, makes most of those smug claims about “what we can learn from the Hindus” look rather jejune; this is the best kind of Traditionalism, using the deepest insights of one culture (to return to Spengler’s language) to illuminate the equal depths of another.
Throughout, Watts moves with ease from the Christian dogma of the Incarnation – union with God which is freely and already given – to the futility of methods – union with God something which we not only cannot fail to achieve but cannot even try to achieve, and, indeed, we cannot even refuse it if we wanted to (Hell being the sufferings of those who obstinately chose to refuse) – to his more general and more familiar point that life can only be lived as what Coomaraswamy called “the perpetual uncalculated life in the present” rather than something we plan to get, someday, if we follow the right recipe.
At times Watts manages to both clarify the traditional language of Christian mysticism and express his own views more clearly than he would again:
The consciousness of union with God thus realized is mystical, that is, veiled, rather than beatific; it is not an absolutely direct and full consciousness, but resembles to some extent the consciousness which we have of our own selves. For while we cannot perceive out own egos directly, we know that we exist… and this knowledge is present as an undertone in all other knowledge. Similarly, the mystical knowledge of God is a knowledge of God in the act of this presence and union with us, but is not immediate vision and apprehension of the divine essence. Presumably this is only possible when actual death has removed the ego from standing in its own light. (p.100 and footnote 12)
Indeed, even death can’t escape Watts’ expanding vision of the ever-present union:
Abandoning all concepts and conventional feelings about Reality, letting go of all devices and methods for realizing union with god, we approach the Now just as it is.
Looked at from an intellectual and emotional point of view, the Eternal Now certainly seems dry and empty. From this standpoint, entering into it seems a kind of death, and the surrender of cherished intellectual and emotional consolations is indeed a sharing in the death of the cross, from which the whole power of the Resurrection flows.
Apparently there is nothing in God, and yet everything comes out of him. Sun, moon, stars, mountains, trees, mem – all have their being in and emerge from the Now, from something which, when we try to think about it, instantly seems boundless and void.
There seems no reason why creative life should come out of it, but it does because there is God himself…. This fear of the Void is lack of faith in the reality of God.
This, along with some musing about how God occupied himself before Creation, remind me a bit of my own recent Wattsian reflections on the relation, if any, between the end of our existence and God’s self-amusements; as Watts says, “God is not niggardly in his self-revelation; he exposes himself right before our eyes.” (p.91).
When Watts comes to explicitly discuss the life of Action, the disparagement of methods and the Kantian reorientation of such tools as liturgy, sacraments, prayer etc. into expressions of joyous gratitude rather than desperate attempts to grasp at God or reality, naturally takes the form of tossing aside laws, commandments, regulations, and other Judaica. Instead of vainly trying to “act morally” by hypocritically following rules,
Delivered from the vicious circle of bad self-consciousness… [the] principle of action will no more be a moral code; it will be the indwelling Holy Spirit. (p212)
Since the Reformation [viz, the adolescent stage of culture] we have largely regarded morality as an end in itself…. A morality which proceeds from the realization of union with God [the third, mature, stage] will see that its end is the perfection of this realization for all human beings. (p.214)
Naturally, in an Incarnational religion, this union “extends to all his human functions, for no human function is incompatible with God” (p. 216), which are to be subject to “control and beautification.” Here we see the beginnings of Watts’ call for a true “spiritual materialism.”
Of course, this includes sexuality, and here we can see how Watts’ “bohemian lifestyle,” as he calls it in his 1971 Preface, could raise some questions about his suitability as a university chaplain:
For example, a person is not sexually controlled in any real sense by mere limitations of the frequency of intercourse or the number of his partners. To realize union with God in terms of sexual life, he must exercise control within the act of sex, and as this will require practice the act cannot be too infrequent. (p. 217)
In any event, Watts has some interesting ideas about the nature of this control, and why it requires practice, which we will need to explore a bit later; we’ve also breached the topic of Traditionalism, or at least Traditionalists, and the suitability of Watts as an Episcopal chaplain, all of which deserve, and will now get, their own examinations.
Partings I – Watts and Traditionalism
Of course, all this needs to be read against his later works addressed to Christian theology, as he says in the 1971 Preface; in particular Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship (1964), where he settles his accounts with Traditionalism; as Greg Johnson describes it:
Although Watts found Traditionalism useful in liberating his mind from Christianity, he ultimately rejected it. In the Preface to Beyond Theology, he explains his reason. Traditionalists claim that Christianity is just an exoteric expression of the one primordial tradition which is the inner truth of all religions. But Watts points out that there is no evidence that the founders of Christianity thought that way. Instead, Christianity has always insisted on what Jan Assmann calls the “Mosaic distinction” between true and false religions. Christianity is the one true religion, and all others are simply false.
To Watts’ heresy Whitall Perry, deputized as a sort of Pope of Tradition, replied:
He tells us he broke away from the philosophia perennis outlook because ‘there is not a scrap of evidence that the Christian hierarchy was ever aware of itself as one among several lines of transmission for a universal tradition,’ whereas ‘the so-called “traditionalist school”. . . regards every orthodox spiritual tradition as a more-or-less deliberate adaptation of the philosophia perennis to the needs of different cultures.’ The truth is, exclusivity is not the prerogative of Christianity: there never has been a religion East or West that did not require what Watts calls ‘an all-or-nothing commitment,’ and certainly none of the above named proponents of the perennial wisdom ever claimed otherwise.
But this is really just a detail. The real issue that bugs Perry is Watts’ seemingly cavalier attitude to dogmas and symbols. He’s particularly outraged by Watts’ suggestion that the Resurrection be celebrated at Easter by the ceremonial burning of a copy of the Bible – admittedly, a bit extreme.
I’ve always thought that Perry somewhat missed the point, and here in his 1947 book we find Watts addressing Perry avant le letter, and speaking in more detail on this than I think he ever did later.
Watts insists that our feeling is as valuable as our thinking, and that if we think otherwise it is only because we have, in fact, neglected to develop our feelings as we have our intellect. As it is, out outdated and in any event inadequate symbols of God, Christ, etc. make it impossible for modern man – or someone from a culture as aesthetically developed as the Chinese — to take the Christian message seriously. As he says in Beyond Theology, in a passage that Perry quotes with scorn:
The general climate of twentieth-century knowledge and thought has made it [the existence of such a anthropomorphic God] thoroughly implausible and slightly comic. And so long as we are exhorted in church services to address ourselves (for example) ‘with a pure heart and a humble voice unto the throne of the heavenly grace,’ the very idea of God will be contaminated with this now ridiculous image. It is simply unimaginable that the universe of modern astronomy and physics, biology and chemistry, should be the creation of any such pompous potentate; our world is much too astonishing for any explanation of that kind to be meaningful.
In Behold the Spirit, he emphasizes that symbols, to be effective, must appeal to the whole man, and thus
Because man is so powerfully controlled by [aesthetic perception and feeling], an image of God deficient in beauty is of small appeal to him, and this is especially true of that stratum of the modern mind which we been considering throughout this book – the educated, sincere, thoughtful and spiritually hungry pagan. He is repelled by the downright ugliness and joylessness of so much that passes for Christianity. This cannot be changed by mere external adjustments in ecclesiastical art and manners … it must proceed from an inner experience of the beauty and the joy of God.
Again, the necessity of mysticism, the need to crack the shell to reach the kernel. Traditionalists like Perry want to preserve it, intact, at all cost, and if you don’t want to accept it as is, then hard cheese and great sucks to you.
In a sense, Watts never abandoned the Traditionalist sensibility, only its diagnosis and method. Both agreed that modern man had met an impasse, and that a spiritual renewal was needed. For Traditionalists like Guénon or Schuon, the religious Reformation and the artistic and scientific Renaissance were twin cataclysms, global catastrophes, no doubt Satanically inspired; they have brought us to despair and must be renounced.
In such works as The Crisis of the Modern World, Guénon heaps scorn on the petty toys of modern technology, which previous, “integral” civilizations would have disdained, and mocks modern man who has worn himself out exploring the paltry “horizontal” dimensions of the material world while ignoring or denying the “vertical” dimension of spiritual transcendence.
Schuon, for his part, in his Logic and Transcendence, calls critical analysis “a contradiction in itself and thus a pure absurdity” and denounces those who, with “arrogant unconsciousness” would “kill with their petty vitriolic thoughts” the “great spokesmen of metaphysics.” As for Beethoven, well, “there is some music that ought not to have been made.”
As we’ve seen, Watts wanted no part of such obscurantism. The transition from childhood belief to adolescent doubt is necessary and valuable; rather than abandoning this achievement it must be completed, brought to fruition by a rediscovery of the inner meaning of the symbols.
As for method, since Watts did not want to abandon the phenomena, he could not pretend to escape to some “higher” viewpoint. Rather than seeking some supposed “transcendental unity” above, behind, or perhaps beneath the variety of religions and cultures,
Watts . . . turned toward hermeneutical analyses exploring interconnections and disjunctions between localized narratives. Through this kind of interpretive study, one arrives at an expanded awareness and comprehension of perspectives via the dialectical rotation of differing vantage points. 
At least implicitly, this was a move from foundationalism if not fundamentalism to perspectivism. As Watts introduces his topic in Behold the Spirit, he argues that for our lives to have meaning, we must know how things are, and fortunately there is a way things are that can be known.
But what if this world is a will to power, and nothing else besides? What if meaning, if it exists, can only arise out of a battle of worldviews? Here, in his hermeneutic turn, we see Watts adumbrating themes that would be brought to a climax in the work of Jason Jorjani, of which more anon.
 The Angry Years: The Rise and Fall of the Angry Young Men (London, Robson Books, 2007; Kindle, 2014), p66.
 For example, I only managed to actually read Moby Dick thanks to a kindle version that could be easily carried around and read on the train. To bring all these points together, the internet already made Yockey’s Imperium available to me in a cheap mass-market paperback from the 60s (Noontide Press — Sausalito, just like Watts, I know notice! — 1962) but it’s still thick as a brick and sports a bright pink [!] nutzi cover, making it something to read behind closed doors. Scholars and collectors might appreciate Wermod’s recent hardcover edition, but at $80 it’s much less likely to produce a new generation of interested readers than any of the – admittedly, poorly produced – kindles on Amazon (for now…).
 As explained elsewhere (“There & Then: Personal & Memorial Reflections on Alan Watts (1915-1973)”, here), back then the FCC’s “Fairness Doctrine” required radio stations to broadcast a certain amount of “religious” content, which Detroit’s pioneer “underground” FM station, WABX, fulfilled by re-broadcasting Alan Watts’ lectures and other performances from KPFA San Francisco.
 This was a student exercise, republished in 1972 by the Society for Comparative Philosophy in Sausalito, apparently another Watts project that dissipated with his death — you can now find it in Alan Watts — In the Academy: Essays and Lectures (SUNY series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology); edited and with an introduction by Peter J. Columbus and Donadrian L. Rice (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2017); see my review here.
 The reader will have noted the noticeable amount of works republished in the years close to his death, which were also his peak of popularity among the general public. No one can begrudge the man striking while the iron is hot, so to speak, but in Watts’ case the irony is that this supposed spokesman for “free love” was supporting an entourage of three wives and eleven children and grandchildren, and it was his old-fashioned sense of personal responsibility that drove his overwork and over-production, resulting in charges of sliding into popularization, enabling his alcoholism, and likely his early death. For a personal account of Watts’ last days, see Al Chuang’s reflections in their Tao: The Watercourse Way.
 Another intellectual irrelevancy tendency obviated by the kindle; Evola, for instance, gave away any book he read, considering libraries to be bourgeois; Stephan George limited his followers to a personal collection of no more than 50 volumes. J. P. Donleavy, author of The Ginger Man, was reputed to keep “only one book in his house: The Ginger Man, and was usually found reading it.” – Colin Wilson, The Angry Years (Robson Books, 2007), p81.
 Interpreted in the manner of the Eastern Church, as a timeless act in which God, through Christ, takes on the nature of Man; not something to be achieved through good works (Roman Catholicism) or conditional on acceptance by faith (Luthernism).
 “To defend itself against the modern disintegration philosophy must return to the point from which it began to decay, to scholasticism, and the robust common sense of St. Thomas.” (p.47).
 Evola’s book on Buddhism, The Doctrine of Awakening, was translated into English in 1948, just a year later; but I have never seen any indication that Watts ever read Evola, or vice versa.
 Around the time of this reissue the University of Vermont awarded the later, famous Watts a D.D.
 He later learned that his failure to win a scholarship to Cambridge was due to writing a exam essay on Courage “in the style of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, which I had just read.” The ever-dangerous Nietzsche! See Watts’ autobiography, In My Own Way, p.102).
 Watts observes in his autobiography that while his classmates struggled with the Greek New Testament, Watts would prepare three or four possible translations of disputed passages and then guess – always correctly – that the instructor would choose the most banal.
 In the same way Watts recommends the Zen koan; “something of this kind would be a refreshing and invigorating relief from the interminable explanations of theologians… necessary as these may be.” (p.111).
 Discussing his follow-up to The Outsider, Religion and the Rebel, Colin Wilson notes that “Where history is concerned, it seemed clear that Spengler’s conclusion – that the modern world is plunging into decadence and collapse – was overly pessimistic…. Civilizations can be revitalized by their ‘creative minorities’ – that is, by Outsiders.” The Angry Years, p98.
 Evola, reviewing Imperium, criticized Yockey for simply misreading Spengler in the American “can-do” spirit. Ironically, he would likely agree with Watts, that Spengler was a philistine in matters spiritual, given what he says in his own Introduction to the Italian edition of Decline as well as his autobiography: “Spengler lacked any understanding of metaphysics or transcendence;” see The Path of Cinnabar (London: Arktos, 2009), pp.202-03.
 To anticipate a bit, and to make a point Watts would likely never make himself: when the Romans put an end to the childish Temple cult, Jews could have followed Christ in his new, Third Age religion of the Holy Spirit, but instead clung to the Pharisees and their adolescent, Protestant religion of disputation and book-learning. Like Protestantism, this brought many good things: literacy, high IQ, financial wizardry; and many bad things: Tay-Sachs and other genetic diseases, short stature and slight builds, striking lack of attractive women, etc.
 Cf. the prolonged infancy of Ignatius Reilly.
 The three (or more) stage model continues to find adherents. John Halstead observes that “In his book, Crafting the Art of Magic, Kelly [Aidan Kelly, the founder of the New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn, a West Coast Neo-Pagan tradition organized in 1967] describes the same three stages in the development of an individual’s religious maturity identified by Alan Watts.” Later, Toronto academic James Fowler’s book, Stages of Faith, [Harper, 1995] “describes this same process as Watts and Kelly … but in much more detail, drawing on the theories of psychologists Piaget, Kohlberg, Erickson, and others. Fowler describes 6 stages of spiritual development. Fowler’s Stages 2/3, 4, and 5 correspond roughly to the three stages described by Watts and Kelly above: a mythologizing stage, a de-mythologizing stage, and a reconstructive stage. (Fowler’s Stage 1 corresponds to early childhood, of which most of us have little memory, and Stage 6 essentially corresponds to what might be called “enlightenment”, which few of us will ever experience.)” See John Halstead: “Stages of (My) Faith,” here.
 For Watts, “the Church” is what he calls – as others did then – “Catholic Christianity,” meaning the common elements that are truly universally held and hence “catholic;” as opposed to one particular church arrogantly claiming the name “Catholic” and pretending that other confessions are simply heretical or schismatic. Anglicans of this sort would think of themselves as being Catholics who had simply sent the old man in Italy packing, without any significant change in doctrine, unlike those weird Dissenters and other breeds outside the law. (Cf. the “No true Scotsman” fallacy). Today, the Episcopal Church describes itself as “Protestant, yet Catholic” —“What makes us Anglican? Hallmarks of the Episcopal Church”. Writing of the translation philosophy that produced the King James Bible, which tries to steer between Anglican Royalists and Puritan Separatists, Adam Nicolson says “avoidance of choice is, in the end, the heart of the King James Bible. It does not choose. It absorbs and includes. It is in that sense catholic, as Jacobean Englishmen consistently called their church: not Roman but catholic, embracing all. See his God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (Harper/Collins, 2003), loc. 3672.I suspect actual Roman Catholics thought otherwise. Nicolson describes the execution of the Jesuit Fr. Garnet, supposed accomplice of Guy Fawkes: “A man in the huge crowd shouted out, ‘Mr Garnet, it is expected you should recant.’ Garnet said, ‘God forbid, I never had any such meaning, but ever meant to die a true and perfect Catholic.’ The extraordinary Jacobean ability to dispute, to be witty on the brink of the precipice, at this of all moments, now came to the fore. John Overall, considering the claims of the Church of England to be the true primitive church, then said to the Jesuit, ‘But Mr Garnet, we are all Catholics.’” (op. cit., loc. 1796). Frederick Rolfe (“Baron Corvo”), although himself a convert, would refer to the Anglican Canon in Venice as “the heresiarch.” In fact, one suspects he converted for the sheer joy of living in opposition to the masses of British people. Still, few went as far as devout Jews, who would spit when passing a Christian cemetery.
 Although admittedly Watts dismisses it as “a potboiler” (Way, p174)
 Like most Westerners Watts in his outline seems to ignore the existence of the Greek or Eastern church, which arguably represents the true stream of Christian teaching. But in his discussion of mysticism Watts alludes to the Eastern traditions of theodosis, God becoming man so that man can become (or realize himself to be) God, so there is a kind of archeofuturism here, the new dispensation seeming to be a rebirth of Orthodox spirituality.
 Remember that Watts, like Spengler, sees the birth of Christianity to be part of the final stage of the previous civilization, and in that sense fully mature. The confusingly named “Middle Ages”
 By “Protestantism” Watts means Lutheranism and Calvinism, while Anglicanism remains within “Catholic Christianity.”
 “All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?” Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979). Cuckservative William F. Buckley demanded the film be prosecuted for blasphemy.
 Yeats, I believe, said that modern science gives us longer and longer lives, while removing any reason to live.
 “It is a pet notion of mine that certain theological systems (like Calvinism) are inversion of the humility they profess, since they appeal to human vanity rather than deflate it. Poor man, that he needs the doctrine of the fall to invest him with a little glamour! Pitiful ego, that must sit in sackcloth and ashes and fancy itself the butt of Reprobation!” says the Rev. Mackerel of the People’s Liberal Church of Avalon, Conn., in The Mackerel Plaza (1958) by Peter De Vries, himself a graduate of Calvin College. He has been described by the philosopher Daniel Dennett as “probably the funniest writer on religion ever”
 Evola prefers the rather painful metaphor of “a rupture of levels.” See Ride the Tiger.
 Not that there’s anything wrong with that….
 Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder (London: Chapman & Hall, 1945 [i.e. 1944]).
 I can find no mention of either Waugh or Brideshead in his Collected Letters.
 Watts: “a Protestant Chesterton, not to mention a Protestant Rabelais, is well-nigh inconceivable.” Watts also notes the creepy kind of cheerfulness put forward by the Protestant, reminding one of the Ned Flanders character on The Simpsons.
 Although the motif of the conveniently similar sister, like the girl who is only disguised as a boy for some reason, has not infrequently been used to covertly continue such relationships in fiction; see, for example, Baron Corvo’s Desire and Pursuit of the Whole.
 “Asterisks, too serve to refresh the reader’s eye and mind …. I could not possibly have granted a chapter of its own to the foregoing excursus….” Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as told by a Friend by Thomas Mann, translated by John E. Woods (New York: Knopf, 1999), p189.
 As we’ll see, this is the position of the so-called “traditionalist,” of the Roman Catholic or Perennialist sort; “trends as the nineteenth-century Gothic revival and the reversion of the Roman Catholic Church at that time to an extreme traditionalism and obscurantism against the rise of liberalism.” (p.31). Gothic Revival was exemplified by Ralph Adams Cram, but Cram, like Watts, wanted to go back behind the Renaissance in order to move forward; he was as much a modernist as a medievalist. See my “Ralph Adams Cram: Wild Boy of American Architecture,” reprinted in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others: Traditionalist Meditations on Literature, Art, & Culture; ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014). The architect of, among many other sites, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, Cram is honored on December 16th in the Episcopalian calendar.
 As Watts says several times, to get the nut you must break the shell; cf. Mann’s Dr. Faustus: “He that would eat the kernel must crack the nut” is a German proverb favored by one of the protagonist’s Protestant theology professors, and he recalls it several times throughout his subsequent rise and fall (pp 95, 198, 509 in the Lowe-Porter translation; for some reason, John Woods’s later translation renders this as “you must set pins if you would bowl”, pp105, 526). In an embarrassing scene, the same professor tries to chase away the Devil by hurling a bread roll at him; Watts illustrates the Protestant attitude by alluding to the inspiration, Luther hurling an inkpot at Satan (p191). However, Watts apparently was interested in but did not see Dr. Faustus until he received it as a Christmas present in 1949 (Letter of January 10, 1949; Letters, p 240). He would likely know the phrase in its Anglican context, from the Preface to the 1611 King James Bible, by Miles Smith: “Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light, that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel.”
 It’s also appropriate as being the method of Plotinus, who summed up what Watts considers the high, late wisdom of Classical culture (see the discussion of Spengler’s “second religiosity” above), and was part of the same mid-century Thomistic academic world Watts is operating in, which I encountered at the University of Windsor, where John N. Deck held forth on Plotinus — who, in his own doctoral dissertation on Plotinus, says he does not so much prove his conclusions as accustom us to them by talking around them: “In many places he does not so much prove his propositions and notions as accustom his hearers and readers to their truth. The result is that it often seems that he is proving conclusions by premises and premises by conclusion, when in fact he is elaborating an intuition . . . and rendering it plausible and acceptable.” See John N. Deck, Nature, Contemplation, and the One: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus (University of Toronto Press, 1969; Toronto Heritage series, 2017 [Kindle iOS version]).
 Unlike Plotinus, whose collected discourses– The Enneads, produced late in life by a man who, unlike Watts, despises language and communication as he does the body and other mere matter – are written in the worst Greek of any surviving classic, yet contain passages where, as Yeats said of the translation by his fellow Irishman Stephan MacKenna, “one has the sense of great doors flung open.”
 Watts justifies the move “for the reason that the reality of religion and the reality of life are one and the same.” (p.105)
 Again, there is something very Plotinian both in the idea mystical experience as operating alongside everyday consciousness, and in the process of freeing our notion of consciousness from one impediment after another, until finally even the ego itself drops out, leaving … a kind of “super” consciousness? See especially Deck, op. cit.
 Watts never disparages Jews and Judaism as such, but does says that “Christianity is different in principle from Judaism and other legalistic religions” (p.213) — which today would certainly be called “anti-Semitism – and goes on to relate to “monkey religion” (alluding to his discussion of the attempt to achieve union with God by imitating, monkey-like, the superficial actions of the saints.
 One, or at least myself, can’t help but be reminded of Dr. Strangelove’s plan for post-nuclear war survival:
General “Buck” Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn’t that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?
Dr. Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious… service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.
Ambassador de Sadesky: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.
See my essay “From Odd John to Strange Love,” reprinted in Green Nazis in Space! New Essays on Literature, Art, & Culture; edited by Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).
 For Evola, see Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex (New York: Inner Traditions, 1983; Edizioni Meditterranee, 1969) as well as “Beyond Prudery and Perversion: The Sexual Aesthetics and Metaphysics of Julius Evola” by Keith Preston (online here): “Where Evola’s thought is to be most sharply differentiated from that of modern leftists is not on the matter of sex-phobia, but on the question of sexual egalitarianism. Unlike the Christian puritans who regard deviants from the heterosexual, procreative sexual paradigm as criminals against the natural order, Evola apparently understood the existence of such “sexual identities” as a naturally occurring phenomenon. Unlike modern liberals, Evola opposed the elevation of such sexual identities or practices to the level of equivalence with “normal” procreative and kinship related forms of sexual expression and relationship.” Daniélou – translator of the Kama Sutra – travelled rural India in the 30s in a trailer home with his longtime companion; in The Way to the Labyrinth: Memories of East and West (New Directions, 1987), Daniélou recounts his first sexual experience – with a twenty-yea- old, six-foot-seven baseball player – after which he “murmured: ‘there must be a God for such happiness to be possible!’ For a long time I had ceased to believe in the Christian God …. Oddly enough, it was in that moment of intense pleasure that a god of sensuousness, happiness and light was reveal to me…. all I need to do now was find him.” (p.63).
 Wasn’t there a Protestant pastor who wanted to deliberately provoke Moslems by burning the Koran? The affinity of Traditionalism for the mental atmosphere of militant Islam will be noted again soon.
 In The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War (New York: Random House, 2008), David Lebedoff attempts to argue that George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, apparently polar opposites, were in fact soul mates; each despised the modern world, but their solutions – return to Mediaevalism, progress to the Socialist utopia — were polar opposites
 Logic and Transcendence, by Frithjof Schuon (New York: Harper & Row, 1975); in his review, Perry calls it his “masterwork [which] in its textual magnitude and multifaceted precision—logical, intellectual, and spiritual—offers a veritable panoply of what might be called the Schuonian cosmorama.” Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 9, No. 4. (Autumn, 1975), online here.
 Although Traditionalists may make token gestures against modernity, no doubt eschewing video games and shopping for “organic” produce, etc., they by and large seem happy enough to make use of the “toys” of modern technology – cars, planes, modern publishing methods (even a hand-cranked press is a “modern” invention). They no doubt justify this to themselves the same way Islamic militants use modern explosives, guns, and the Internet while attempting to impose a Mediaeval Caliphate; the attraction of Traditionalists to Islam – which never had a Reformation – is note-worthy.
 Alan Watts—In the Academy: Essays and Lectures (SUNY series in Transpersonal and Humanistic Psychology); edited and with an introduction by Peter J. Columbus and Donadrian L. Rice (Albany: SUNY Press, 2017), kindle loc. 560-566; see my review here.
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