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Channeling - An Esoteric Critique


M. Alan Kazlev

 Although the "New Age" is supposed to represent a breaking free of the old dogmas and outdated ways of doing things, one too often finds instead the same stupidities repeated under a new guise.  A perfect example of this is the phenomenon of "Channelling".  As a student of esoteric and occult philosophies, I would like to take this opportunity to shed light on the important and often misleading subject.

 First however, it is necessary to distinguish Channelling from the related phenomena of Spiritualism.  Both involve the communication, through a passive or entranced human medium, of messages from a supposed disincarnate intelligence, who is quite distinct from the personality of the medium; and that the messages from this entity fills a need for the people concerned.

 Spiritualism is based on the dogma that the mediumistic communications derive from an ordinary but disincarnate ("deceased") human entity.  It is as if you were talking by phone to someone in another country, and this person was telling you about that country.  So you know this person arrived safely in that country, and is well and happy.  That is all that Spiritualism is; the belief, or reassurance, that the personality and ego continues after the death of the body pretty much exactly as it was while still in the body.

 Spiritualism was very popular in the last and the early part of this century, when the only choice people had was between stern religions that condemned sinners and unbelievers to hell, and materialistic scepticism which said that death means the cessation of consciousness.  Spiritualism was thus at the time a tremendous improvement over both its rivals.

 In contrast to Spiritualism, Channelling is said to represent a communication through the entranced medium of a super-human entity: a god, daimon, angel, "Ascended Master", Avatar or Godhead.  Such a being either never was human at all, or was once human but has now totally transcended the human condition.  So, rather than a simple reassurance that consciousness survives physical death, the material transmitted through Channelling deals with larger spiritual, psychic, or occult topics, such as the nature of Reality and of the Godhead, why we are here, the various planes of consciousness and cycles of evolution, and so on.

 This communication may be in the form of a "once only" book or religious revelation (e.g. Ohapse, Urantia, the Book of the Law, A Course in Miracles, etc); in the mode of an "astral Guru" giving regular discourses on spiritual guidance to humanity, and metaphysical or occult information of varying quality (e.g. Ramtha, Lazarus, Mafu, Emmanuel, St Germaine, etc); as a personal psychic healer giving personal advice or a reading (e.g. Edgar Cayce); or as a teacher speaking to a particular group (e.g. Jane Roberts' Seth", and the "Michael" entity).

 As an aside, I should point out here that the word "channelling" is sometimes also used in different contexts.  A person initiated into Reiki for example is said to be a "Reiki Channel", because he or she is now able to channel the universal life-force energy (ch'i or ki).  But in no instance is this energy defined as an external being that gives pronouncements on the meaning of life.

 Channelling is by no means a recent phenomenon.  A few historical examples are some of the Old Testament Prophets, the Sibylline and Chaldean Oracles, the Gnostic text Thunder, Perfect Mind, the Koran of Mohammed, the Shiva Sutras of Kashmir Shaivism, and some of the 16th century Kabbalists.

 Channelling is very important in the present so-called New Age movement, where it constitutes a major religious element.  As with the converts to Spiritualism in the last and the early part of this century, those people who flock to channellers or study their teachings are sensitive, sometimes quite intelligent, and dissatisfied with the limitations of conventional religion and scientific materialism.  At the same time they are not spiritually evolved enough to arrive at the Truth themselves.  These people find the answers to all their questions in through naive faith in the channelled communications.

 I have seen a channel in action - that is, someone who was undoubtedly in a trance, not a fake like "Mafu" (more on which a little later).  This was at the Findhorn Festival Centre, then located in Hawthorn, Melbourne.  I have always thought highly of Findhorn, or at least, of the image of Human-Deva cooperation as presented in the books about the founding of the Findhorn Community, in a desolate part of Northern Scotland in the early 1960s.  In my naivety (this was some years ago, and I was a lot younger at the time), I naturally assumed that anyone who went to a Findhorn centre would have the same qualities and dedication as the founders.  So, when I heard that there would be a genuine channel there, I thought: "Wow!  This should be checked out."   I already knew of course that channelled communications did not really come from God, St Germaine, or the Ascended Master Jesus.  But I thought it would be interesting to observe the phenomenon at first hand, as a scientist.

 The fellow who did the channeling actually had a property in the country which he'd converted into a spiritual centre.  Presumably he (or the entity talking through him) had been giving these messages for some time, because several of the people there seemed to be devotees, so to speak.  I think this entity was supposed to have been God or an an aspect of the Godhead or whatever.  Anyway, he went into a trance and sat swaying back and forth.  People would ask questions, and after some period he (or "it") would answer.  I was expecting something witty, or interesting (in the way that "Seth" was supposed to be, for example), but instead heard only the most inane garbage.  To this day I regret not writing everything down - questions and answers - as they were spoken.  It was the most hilarious thing.  To give one example, at one point he said something about getting rid of the ego.  Then, a bit later, after other questions and answers, someone asked: "how does one eliminate the ego?"  He boomed out, sounding really angry, "There is no such thing as ego!".  Another time, someone asked if he could channel Satya Sai Baba.  He agreed to, was silent for a minute or two, then said something like "I am Sai Baba!  I feed on all those who come to me!"  And something else along those lines as well.  The fellow who had asked was very upset, and stood up and channelled this "entity" to prove that he really was Divine, and not some being from the "other side".  I thought he had a good point.  The channeller just sat there, swaying back and forth (as he did the whole session).  He didn't reply.  The Sai Baba devotee apologised to everyone and left.  I expected someone else to take up his challenge, but no-one did.  They just asked more inane questions.  At one point someone asked if he could channel Jesus.  After a minute of swaying, he said some really nice things about Love and stuff.  It was the fist and only time the entire session I had anything I considered inspiring.  I left that evening convinced that the "entity" communicating through the channel was nothing but a lower psychic formation, devoid even of the most elementary intelligence.  I was also left with serious doubts regarding the intelligence of some of the people who attended the session.

 Another experience with a channelled entity - second hand this time - left me even more cynical.  A young woman I knew was involved in a spiritualist circle.  The whole group of people in this circle were living in terror, because they had contacted some being mediumistically, and this being told them that the city of Melbourne would very soon be destroyed by a tidal wave, and all their homes would be swept away.  I tried to explain to this person that this message was not in the slightest the case, but she refused to listen to me.

 All of which raises the question, why are humans so inanely stupid that they will believe as absolute truth the message of some minor astral formation, but be totally blind to the voice of human reason?

 Of course, there is nothing knew in all this; all through history humans have stupidly worshipped lower astral formations and projections of their subconscious as "gods".

 My own first hand experience of actual channeling (rather than listening to someone else) came as something of a surprise.  It was after I had been initiated (or "tuned") into Reiki II.  When doing absent healings I found at some point I would contact a being of light and power connected with the person being healed.  For sake of a better word I call these beings "angels".  This being would transmit a burst of information through me, about love and God and forgiveness and all that sort of stuff.  In one case I felt annoyed when the word "God" continually came up, because I really dislike that word.  It's been the cause of so much misery, bigotry, intolerance, persecution, and ignorance down through the centuries.  Godhead, the Supreme, the Divine, the Self....I don't care what term you use, just as long as it's not "God."  But this being used that word, so I wrote it down as part of the message.  The fact that the entity used a word I disliked and would never use in this context was proof, if any were needed (and I didn't need any, the experience itself was enough) of the entity's "objective" existence vis-a-vis my own psyche.

 My Reiki II experiences illustrate how incredibly easy it is to contact entities of this nature.  You don't have to go into the wilderness and fast for forty days and forty nights.  Moreover, if the person who contacts or experiences the spirit entity is lacking in occult knowledge, then they can very easily believe this sort of being to be a deity or ascended master.  This is especially so if the orientation of the entity itself is more towards knowledge (metaphysics and cosmology) than healing.

 A good example of this is the Alice Bailey material.  Alice Bailey (1880-1949), even by her own autobiographical account, started out as a fundamentalist Christian of the most obnoxiously proselytising sort.  After some years she realised how unsatisfactory such an approach was, and became interested in theosophy.  She joined the Theosophical Society, and eventually claimed she was in touch with one of the secret Masters (an entity which had appeared to her a number of times over her life and which she had previously interpreted as Jesus).  Now, belief in secret Masters is very important to Theosophy.  They are supposed to be the source of much of the Theosophical teachings.  Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the organisation, always claimed to be in contact with them; so did another theosophist, C.W. Leadbeater.  But Ms Bailey's fellow theosophists didn't take kindly to some upstart claiming to be in contact with one of the Masters, when even they weren't, so there was a hoo-huffle and Bailey resigned, to set up her own group, the Arcane School.  Anyway, her Secret Master, called "the Tibetan" because he was supposedly the abbot of a large Tibetan monastery, dictated a whole lot of material, which Bailey wrote down.  Nowadays her (or "The Tibetan's") books are immensely influential.  Terms like "the New Age", "the Seven Rays", "White Light", "Devas", "Esoteric Astrology", and others, were either specifically coined, or where not, modified and popularised, in them.  Unfortunately, anyone with even the most superficial knowledge of genuine Tibetan Buddhism (and there are a lot of authentic Tibtean Buddhist books and teachings available nowadays) immediately realises that there is not one shred of actual Tibetan Buddhist teaching in any of these books.  They are a mixture of Theosophy, Christianity, and some eccentric original ideas.  It is clear then that Alice Bailey's subconscious was the doctrinal source of her material, but it may also be the case that an autonomous psychic entity provided the power and impetus behind it all.

 A channeller of a rather different sort was the American Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), called "the Sleeping Prophet" because he would give astonishing pronouncements while in trance.  Because in those pre-New Age days no-one new anything about "channeling" (the word hadn't been invented at the time), we find that even today Cayce's followers speak of Cayce's "Higher Self" as the source of the communications.  The entity often seemed to know details about the lives of the people who came for readings, and would diagnose cures for their illnesses.  There were no pious religious pronouncements on the meaning of life, just information presented in a pragmatic down-to-earth way.  As with Alice Bailey, Edgar Cayce has since become an influential figure, with a number of books written about him or about these readings, and the belief that his "higher self" was an infallible source of information.  In fact, not everyone was cured (although some obviously were), and in the case of the tragic Lindburg baby-kidnapping case of 1932, most of the material Cayce offered was false, and the rest was useless.  His predictions for the future fared no better.  In 1931 he predicted the Great Deppression would be pretty much over by 1933, and in 1943 he said that by 1968 Communist China would have converted to Christianity.  He also made a lot of bizarre predictions about the re-emergence of Atlantis, and about Japan and much of California sliding into the sea.  The theme of global catastrophes is extremely popular in the New Age movement nowadays, where it is given the euphemistic term "Earth Changes," and it seems that Cayce was unwittingly the one responsible for this regrettable attitude.

 A recent prediction of "Earth Changes" was made in Australia some years ago.  When J.Z. Knight, who channels "Ramtha", visited Sydney, she (or Ramtha) announced that very soon the eastern seaboard would be wiped out by a huge tidal wave (seems that tidal waves are quite popular in the channeling community!), "higher than your tallest building" - Sydney's Centrepoint Tower presumably - and that everyone should sell up their houses "and move across the mountains called Blue."   Well, what do you know, a number of devotees were silly enough to take Ramtha's advice.  On the expected day, the giant wave didn't appear, and a lot of Ramtha devotees were left out in the sticks with mud on their faces.  None of this seems to have bothered Ms Knight, who freely admits making millions of dollars through "Ramtha".  How very different from Edgar Cayce, who never charged a cent for any of his readings!

 It may well be the case that these channellers originally did have an authentic contact with a non-physical intelligence, but as their fame and wealth grew they became more egotistic, closed off to the higher worlds, and had to resort to trickery.  This can sometimes lead to the channeler, even more than the poor devotees, being left looking like a fool.  When Penny Torres, who channels Mafu, came to Australia, preceeded and accompanied by a fan-fare of ads and articles in the various New Age magazines, she had the hubris to appear on national television (it was one of those current affair talk-shows with a studio audience; I don't remember which one, it could have been Parkinson on the ABC).  Faced with an audience of sceptical critics instead of the naive doe-eyed faithful she is used to, her act very quickly fell to pieces.  Under pressure Ms Torres lost the New York Jewish granny accent that "Mafu" uses.  At one point someone in the audience asked her if she could recite a little Latin (Mafu being an entity who supposedly last appeared on Earth as a first century Greek).  She got a little flustered naturally.  The heckler pointed out that surely she should know something, even from Catholic high school days.  Ms Torres naturally became even more flustered.  As far as I know, Mafu has never returned to Australia since, nor have there been any more articles about "his" teachings in any alternative magazines.

 Now, I do not wish to give the impression that every channelled communication falls into this league.  The Findhorn centre itself was started largely on the basis of channelled communications and advice.  Theese messages were not pronouncements on Earth Changes, Space Brothers from the Pleadies, or dogmatic belief in this or that doctrine, just hard slogging practical advice.  On that basis the Findhorn Community was built, and it is still one of most important "New Age" centres in the world today.  One individual associated with Findhorn, David Spangler, received in channelled form a beautiful series of messages which he wrote down in a book called Reveation: The Birth of the New Age.  Although this book is based to a large extent on theosophical doctrine from Spangler's own subconscious, most of it is very inspiring, and very timeless in its appeal.

 Another extraordinary body of Channelled material is the Seth material of Jane Roberts.  As with other channelled material it is verbose and tiring to read.  And although some of "Seth"'s stuff is your typical cliched channelled material - so-called objective reality is like a dream; we create our own realities all the time, only we don't realise it; we are all part of a vast evolving spiritual universe, the totality of which is Deity or "All That Is" - there is also much in this corpus of writings that is quite original and imaginative: probable selves, parallel realities, simultaneous reincarnation (all life-times exist at once), our thoughts appearing like universes to other orders of beings, and so on.  I'm not saying that this stuff is necessary true (or false for that matter), but simply because it displays a much greater degree of originality than 99.99% of channelled material.

 I could go on with more channeller case-studies, but that wouldn't change the facts stated here.  Ramtha and the fellow at the Findhorn Festival Group represent the lower order of channelled communications, and individuals like Jane Roberts and David Spangler the heights, but between these two extremes are a vast number of channelers who give messages about love and consciousness, and you and God being one and the same being, and about Earth Changes and the New Age and the Galactic Council and all the rest, much of it of very mediocre quality, with a few bits of common-sense wisdom shining here and there.

 But if the bulk of this material is so poor, why are people so keen to embrace it?

 The most obvious answer is the decline of established religions.  Those individuals who are not spiritually developed enough to follow there own inner Light have traditionally depended on exoteric or institutionalised religion to supply all the answers, and indeed many still do.  But for most, these religions are no longer as persuasive or convincing as they used to be, and channelled communications provides an easy alternative.

 Yet this answer, although clearly valid, fails to address the problem of the actual experience itself, whether of the channeller or of his/her followers.  Why do people believe these things - or any things - anyway.  And where exactly do channelled communications come from?

 Now, there have been a lot of explanations offered here; e.g. channelled communications come from the channellers own subconscious or unconscious, or from some Jungian collective unconscious or psychic storehouse, or some sort of universal mind or whatever.

 Personally, I don't abide with any of these explanations.  As far as I can understand, channelled communications, and here I mean the genuine communications, not the fakes and the mediocre ones, come from non-human psychic intelligences.  Not from God, not from ascended masters or space brothers or as fundamentalists assert the Christian devil.

 The cosmology the channelled entities use to explain themselves is very crude and simplistic.  The entity doing the talking usually defines him/her/itself as pertaining to the very highest stratum of consciousness; say "Godhead" according to this diagram.  Human beings on the other hand only live in the gross physical plane.  This is just like the old dualistic religion, where a revelation from on high has to believed uncritically.  Often pseudo (very pseudo) scientific jargon is used; for example the dreary "3rd dimensional" physical world as opposed to the wonderful "4th dimensional" spiritual world where the channelled entity claims to come from.

 True Esoteric and Occult knowledge however (gnosis) presents things in a very different light.  In order to explain the relationship between physical, psychic, and spiritual realities, an ontological hierarchy - a hierarchy of grades of being, or planes of consciousness - is generally used.  In this understanding, each higher grade of being generates the one beneath, and each lower serves as the "body" or "vehicle" of the one above.  Beyond all these grades or planes is the Absolute Reality or Godhead.  (There are actually grades within the Absolute Itself, but we won't worry about that here).  Speaking metaphorically, we could say that this Absolute Reality polarises into (or expresses itself as) "Being" and "Non-Being".

 Taking the pole of pure "Being" - or Light or Spirit or Creativity or whatever you want to call it - this could be said to represent the Divine Reality.  From this Divine Reality there arises a somewhat more limited, but still sublime reality.  Let us call this the Noetic Reality; "Nous" being originally a Neoplatonic term for the Divine Mind.  From the Noetic Reality arises a more limited reality again, which we can hear call the Noeric Reality; "Noeric" meaning the intellect that does not intrinsically possess Truth, but is still able to approach Truth by means of concepts and understanding.  The Noeric Reality in turn generates the Psychic Reality; by "Psychic" is meant what theosophists and occultists call the "astral plane"; the universe of pure psychic energy, beyond space and time and the laws of matter.  From this proceeds the Physical reality; from the Physical the Chthonic (sub-physical); and from the Chthonic the Hylic, which is pure "Non-Being" yet contains the potentialities of all Being.  This is the descent of consciousness.

 The converse is also the case.  We could say that from Hyle evolves the Chthonic reality, from the Chthonic evolves Physical Reality, from physical matter evolves sentience or the psychic reality, and so on.  This is the evolution of matter.  The two poles, Yin and Yang, Receptivity and Creativity, Hyle and Divinity, are interdependent.

 But all we need consider here is the hypothesis of Reality as a sort of "spectrum of being", with each "zone" in the overall spectrum a separate "universe" or "plane" characterised by its own particular laws, phenomena, entities, and so on.  This can be represented diagrammatically as follows (I have also included some popular occult terms to help explain the different "zones":

underlying Absolute Reality
Plane of Existence
Absolute Reality
(beyond all Planes)
Manifest Absolute
Noetic Reality
Upper  Godheads
Divine Gods
Upper  Gnosis
Noeric Reality
Gnostic Illumination
Upper  Intuitive
Omni-Psychic Reality
Spiritual Astral
Emotional Astral
Lower Astral
Omni-Physical Reality

 So what we have basically is a hierarchy of levels of consciousness.  This is what Occultism and the various forms of occult cosmology reveal.

 Now, you might ask, what has all this to do with channelling?  Well, the answer is that according to many channelled messages?  Well, considering the above cosmology, it soon becomes apparent that most channelled communications, as indeed most religions, only derive from a relatively low stratum, more specifically the Lower and Higher Psychic Realities.  That is why religions (and I am not talking about exceptional mystics, but rather the institutionalised churches) often do so much harm, and why channelled communications are often such nonsense.  It is only when you rise to the higher Noeric Reality that you actually receive things that are worthwhile.

 Most people don't realise this because they are stuck in the old dualistic preconception of matter and spirit.  Because of this, they automatically assume that any non-physical intelligence that contacts them, or that they contact, must automatically be "God", or at least a New Age equivalent - an "Ascended Master" or "Space Brother" or whatever.

 And because of these monotheistic preconceptions, they don't realise that there can be - and indeed are - an innumerable number of non-physical entities superior in power (but not necessarily in understanding) to the human personality.  They think there can only be one superior being, which they call "God".

 But, just as the Physical Reality is inhabited by beings, so is every other plane and dimension of Reality.  There are beings everywhere.  This is so for the Psychic as much as for the other realities.  And just as there are some phenomena weaker and other phenomena stronger, than the human organism on the physical plane - well, obviously! - so there are likewise in each of the other planes.  Channelling is the process whereby one of these stronger Psychic entities (and only very rarely an entity from a reality above the Psychic) acts upon a Physical human consciousness.  Since this entity is generally stronger than the human personality it acts upon, the whole experience is rather overpowering, and the person in question doesn't know what to think.  They usually ends up interpreting the entity as God, the Lord Jesus, the Ascended Master Moirya, or whoever else their personal theology indicates they should believe in.  This is how they interpret the power and numinosity of the experience.

 And, as I have explained, this is also where many religious experiences come from, especially those that involve a lot of emotion and irrationality.  These people think they have had some sublime experience of God, whereas all they have done is just tweaked on to the reality immediately above the physical.

 Having attuned to, or been contacted by such an entity, the channeller can then receive a transmission of energy from it.  I emphasise "energy" rather than knowledge or ideas, because it is rare that structured knowledge is transmitted.  This is because knowledge pertains to the Noeric and higher dimensions, above the range of most channelled entities.

 Most (although not all) of the actual knowledge or doctrine part of the message comes about when this energy hits and mixes with the thought-forms (the beliefs and ideas) in the channeller's own aura (psychic field) and subconscious.  Hence we have the doctrinal material produced by Alice Bailey ("The Tibetan"), Helen Schucman ("A Course in Miracles"), and others, which, although coming from a clearly "external" (non-ego) source, is clearly derivable from the channeller's own background. (e.g. in the case of Alice Bailey the so-called Tibetan Lama seems a lot more familiar with Christianity and Theosophy than Vajrayana). Nevertheless, these teachings, although mediated via the subconscious of the medium, do seem to come from an elevated source, as their influence and the amount of people they have inspired attests (this is very different to lower channellers with their cultic behaviour and messages of disaster).

 In some instances - the Cayce, Seth, and Findhorn material for example - we find strong ideas that seem less coloured by the channeller's subconscious.

 Because the actual knowledge content of most channelled communications derives from the channellers subconscious, rather than an external intelligence, it seems a pretty stupid thing to belive in it.  After all, why should J.Z.Knight's subconscious be necessarily more wise or insightful then yours?  And in those cases where the information actually comes from the psychic entity or source, the position is, if anything, worse, because this information tends to be very superstitious, very apocalyptic (tidal waves, "Earth Changes", etc).

 There is actually a simple reason why non-dogmatic human-based spiritual teachings are superior to this sort of stuff.  Channelled communications generally originate from no higher dimension than the Lower or Middle Psychic Reality.  And impressive enough as this may be to those who are stuck in the mud of mundane physical level of consciousness, the higher human spiritual mind derives understanding from the Noeric and even the Noetic dimensions.  What this means is that you, a "mere" human being, have the potential for far, far more knowledge and insight and truth and wisdom than all the Ramthas and Mafus and Lazaruses and Ascended Master Jesuses and all the rest rolled together.  Think about it.  And it is certainly much better to follow one's inner light and intuition, rather than some channelled being that is considered superior for no other reason than because it does not have a physical body.  Of course, to follow one's own truth is also a much harder path, because most people tend to be spiritually lazy, and hence prefer to be told what to believe by a bible or priest or pope or guru or channelled "ascended master" or some other big daddy in the sky.  But for those with the courage and the strength and the ability to follow their own gnosis, the universal Truth and understanding that comes from within, the reward is certainly great.

internal link The Maggid [Heavenly Mentor] of R. Joseph Karo - an example of Channelling in 16th century Kabbalah.

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page uploaded 28 May 1998, most recent update 1 May 2005