Positive or Negative?
The numbers of positive, negative, and neutral experiences are summarised in Chart One. Percentages of each kind of experience in the total sample are given in Chart Four. Nearly half of the sample were classed as positive experiences, with the next largest category being neutral experiences. This can be taken as evidence that contradicts the assumption that occult or esoteric movements result in only negative experiences and outcomes. Whilst negative experiences are reported these comprise a smaller percentage and are often associated with positive outcomes (19 of the 29 negative experiences had a positive outcome). Conversely none of the 77 positive experiences was associated with a negative outcome.
The numbers of positive, negative, neutral and unknown outcomes are summarised in Chart Two. Percentages of each kind of outcome in the total sample are given in Chart Eight.
On the whole this would tend to suggest that the three esoteric traditions studied result in mostly positive experiences and positive outcomes. The fact that there is a significant number of negative experiences which nevertheless result in positive outcomes is an important point. This has been apparent during the analysis and is largely due to the role of suffering and challenges to be overcome in each of the traditions. In this respect, broadly speaking, esoteric experiences tend towards William James’ concepts of the ‘Sick Soul’ and ‘Twice Born’. The Sick Soul senses a radical ‘wrongness or vice in his essential nature… which requires a supernatural remedy.’(1) Furthermore an ‘urgent wondering and questioning is set up, a poring theoretical activity’(2). James says, ‘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.’(3) Negative experiences, for the Sick Soul, supply a wide range of experience, maybe a ‘key to life’s significance’ and ‘open our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.’(4) This is especially apparent in the Fourth Way as previously noted by Colin Wilson in The Outsider. The Outsider is characterised by an existential nihilism; a sense of unreality(5), self-analysis, with an intimation of a larger reality(6), a feeling of not being his real self(7), and a sense of division(8). Wilson draws attention to the negative spiritual experiences of William James(9) and his father(10), as an evil which ‘attacks the mind’ such experiences may become a stimuli towards a search for spiritual freedom(11). The resolution of the Outsider’s problem lies ‘not in reasoning, but in examination of experience’(12) and seems to parallel the religious experience process outlined by Bateson and Ventis(13); existential crisis, self-surrender, a new vision resulting in a new life. This also seems to echo Van Gennep’s three stages in rites of passage; separation from wider society, a marginal state often involving unpleasant trials, and finally an integration back into a new state(14). However, for the Outsider, this religious solution is not to turn to the orthodox Church(15). Wilson quotes both Yeats’(16) and Ouspensky’s(17) experiences as illustrative of this situation. The type of the Outsider or, at least, some of his characteristics are evident in the previous accounts from the Fourth Way and perhaps in Alice Bailey’s admission of attempted suicide and introspection which lead to her own spiritual quest(18).
(1) James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience, Penguin, New York/London (1902) 1982, P134.
(2) ibid, p152.
(3) ibid, p157.
(4) ibid, p163.
(5) Wilson, Colin. The Outsider, Indigo, London (1956) 1978, p15.
(6) ibid, p42.
(7) ibid, p73.
(8) ibid, p83.
(9) ibid, p110.
(10) ibid, p111.
(11) ibid, p113.
(12) ibid, p27.
(13) Batson, Daniel & Ventis, Larry. The Religious Experience: A Social-Psychological Perspective, Oxford University Press, New York 1982, pp81-82.
(14) LaFontaine, Jean. Initiation: Riutal Drama and Secret Knowledge Across the World, Penguin, Harmondsworth 1985, p25.
(15) Op. Cit, p149.
(16) ibid, p265.
(17) ibid, p266.
(18) Bailey, Alice. The Unfinished Autobiography, Lucis Press, London 1951, pp21-22.