“The simple truth is, that there has lived on the earth, “appearing at intervals,” for thousands of years among ordinary men, the first faint beginnings of another race; walking the earth and breathing the air with us, but at the same time walking another earth and breathing another air of which we know little or nothing, but which is, all the same, our spiritual life, as its absence would be our spiritual death. This new race is in act of being born from us, and in the near future it will occupy and possess the earth.” Richard Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, published 1905.
Richard Maurice Bucke was born March 18, 1837, in Methwold, a village on the edge of the Norfolk fens, and lived most of his life in Canada. is In his book ‘Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind’ he described three stages in the development of consciousness: the ‘simple consciousness’ of animals, the ‘self-consciousness’ of the vast majority of humans (the development of reason, self awareness, imagination, etc.), and, achieved by some only, ‘cosmic consciousness’; a mystical state of being beyond ‘self consciousness’ that is the awaiting, next stage of human development.
In his work, the high praise that Bucke gives to to Walt Whitman’s book ‘Leaves of Grass’ (describing how it helped open his mind to the cosmic visionary experience) and his mention of “personal intercourse” with Edward Carpenter, which “assisted greatly in the broadening and clearing up of his speculations, in the extension and co-ordination of his thought” (he writes of himself in the 3rd person in the book), informs me that Bucke was a lover of men. Whitman and Carpenter were two of the key gay male voices that were daring to speak up about the nature of love between men at a time when heterosexual anthropologists and psychologists were analysing and pathologising it, continuing the religiously inspired tradition of homophobia despite claiming to be arbiters of ‘reason’ and ‘science’.
A few gay writers of the 19th century dared to speak up with awareness of the ages old pagan associations of same sex lovers and gender fluid people with priestcraft, shamanism and the divine realms, a view that had competed with the Abrahamic religion’s denial of us for 2000 years. In his classic 1902 study of mysticism, ‘Varieties of Religious Experience,’ William James has a high view of ‘Whitmanism’, seeing it as part of “the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition” on the same level as Hinduism, Neoplatonism, Sufism and Christian mysticism, paths that can lead us to “both become one with the Absolute and … become aware of our oneness.”
The modern movement of LGBT+ Liberation was born in a secular age when few people took seriously, or even took notice of, this spiritual association, but since the 1970s there have been gay writers and some groups reclaiming and exploring it. An ongoing process of decolonising gay history from its western viewpoint is revealing that not only was same sex love and gender fluidity accepted as entirely natural in societies across the world, from tribal groups in Africa and the Americas to the very sophisticated cultures of China and Japan, but that the association with the spiritual life of the community was ingrained everywhere also. As we in the west start to grapple with this ancient inheritance we will have an easier ride if we can dismantle the hypocritical mind-control and damage of Christian beliefs that still affect our society and learn from the mystics of every culture, who all point to a spiritual reality that is free of dogma and fixed definitions, where even deities are optional, to which entry is obtained through a personal union with one’s inner divine source.
English writer John Addington Symonds wrote that “…it is of the highest importance to obtain a correct conception of the steps whereby the Christian nations, separating themselves from ancient paganism, introduced a new and stringent morality into their opinion on this topic, and enforced their ethical views by legal prohibitions of a very formidable kind.” (A Problem in Modern Ethics, published 1896). ‘Ancient paganism’ only became legal to practise in Britain again from the 1950s, the decade before sex between men was partially decriminalised. This mirrors the enactment of the laws prohibiting both witchcraft and sex between men during the reign of Henry VIII, in years 1533 (Buggery Act) and 1542 (Witchcraft). Here we see the beginning of the separation of a very long standing link between gay men and magical practices.
In the ancient cultures of Europe and the Middle East, to put it simply, masculine gay men tended to go into the military and more feminine men were drawn to religious service in temples, where they performed rituals, divination and sacred sex work. For hundreds of years priests of the Goddess were particularly known for their gender fluidity. During the Middle Ages the Inquisition pursued gay men on the assumption they were heretics or pagans – the word Bugger is derived from the Bulgarian Bogomil heretics, as German Ketzer as a slang word for queer comes from the Cathars. At first the English Buggery Act was mainly used to attack and rob the wealth of the Roman Catholic monasteries, which had become safe havens for queer men (because, despite the official homophobia of the Church, it continued to be to spiritual service that many queer people have always been drawn), but from the 18th century became a lethal tool in an increasingly homophobic society, with the last English execution for sodomy – of James Pratt (age 30) and John Smith (age 40) – taking place in 1835. In France due to the Enlightenment philosophies behind the Napoleonic Revolution there was an end to legal sanctions against gay sex in parts of Europe from the 1790s, and it was perhaps in reaction to that development that the attitude in England, also in Germany and the USA, hardened.
After the battering of world wars, global depression and years of austerity, the politically motivated queer activists of the 1960s were no longer making an association of same sex love and gender fluidity with the sacred realms. And those queers who did feel a spiritual calling but sought its expression within established religious settings were not likely to dive into exploration of our queer pagan past, in fact they even bought into the Christian denigration of it.
Yet some did feel called to open doorways into that hidden spiritual history.
Arthur Evans brought men together in a ‘Fairy Circle’ in San Francisco in the 1970s to explore the queerness of the pagan age and produced a visionary work named ‘Witchcraft and the Gay Counter Culture’ in which he aspired to a time of “re-establishing women’s mysteries and men’s mysteries as the highest expression of collective Gay culture and sexuality. We look forward to regaining our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans and sorcerers. We look forward to an endless and fathomless process of coming out – as gay people, as animals, as humans, as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos….. Like butterflies we are emerging from the shells of our past restricted existence. We are re-discovering the ancient magic that was once the birth right of all human beings.”
Harry Hay, who was actively exploring the spirituality of his queer sexuality from a young age, was inspired by Native American tribal attitudes in his approach. He founded the first group campaigning for gay rights in the USA, the Mattachine Society in the 1950s and in the 60s pursued his vision in a ‘Circle of Loving Companions’. Hay was one of the men calling the first ever gathering of what is now a global phenomenon, the Radical Faeries. Centred in nature sanctuaries (the Rad Fae have permanent community spaces in America, Europe and Australia, and have also held gatherings in Thailand and South Africa), but also appearing in gay city scenes such as Portland, New York, London and Berlin, Radical Faeries are reclaiming and exploring the ancient connections between queerness and the spiritual, plus building strong heart centred community built on Harry Hay’s principle of subject:SUBJECT consciousness, an entirely mystical perspective that embraces the unity of the human spirit. Thousands of queers, mostly but not exclusively male-bodied, are now involved with faerie activities, attracted by the sensitive, compassionate approach to community creation.
As well as these more recent visionaries, the spiritual perspective on queer sexuality held by late Victorian gay men such as Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, John Addington Symonds and Richard Bucke can also inform us today as we work out just what the essentially innate spirituality of same sex love and gender fluidity means for us in the 21st century global civilisation.
The mystical experience, testified to by visionaries from every culture, removes the sense of separation from God and the rest of Creation, and these men who loved men were having it.
Oscar Wilde was also open to this sense of spirit:
“I am conscious.. that behind all this artistic beauty.. there is some spirit hidden of which the painted forms and shapes are but modes of manifestation, and it is with this spirit that I desire to become in harmony…. We have forgotten that water can cleanse, and fire purify, and the earth is Mother to us all… I feel sure that in elemental forces there is purification, and I want to go back to them and live in their presence…”
Richard Bucke praises Walt Whitman in his book as the “best, most perfect, example the world has so far had of the Cosmic Sense, first because he is the man in whom the new faculty has been, probably, most perfectly developed, and especially because he is, par excellence, the man who in modern times has written distinctly and at large from the point of view of Cosmic Consciousness, and who also has referred to its facts and phenomena more plainly and fully than any other writer either ancient or modern.”
Bucke cites as evidence of Whitman’s soul awakening these lines, quoted from the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass:
“I believe in you my soul, . . . the other I am must not abase itself to you, And you must not be abased to the other. Loaf with me on the grass, . . . loose the stop from your throat, Not words, not music or rhyme I want, . . . not custom or lecture, not even the best, Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice. I mind how we lay in June, such a transparent summer morning; You settled your head athwart my hips and gently turned over upon me, And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart. And reached till you felt my beard, and reached till you held my feet. Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and joy and knowledge that pass all the art and argument of the earth; And I know that the hand of God is the elder hand of my own, And I know that the spirit of God is the eldest brother of my own, And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, . . . and the women my sisters and lovers, And that a kelson of creation is love.”
He summarised Whitman’s spiritual philosophy as an a appreciation “that the commonplace is the grandest of all things; that the exceptional in any line is no finer, better or more beautiful than the usual, and that what is really wanting is not that we should possess something we have not at present, but that our eyes should be opened to see and our hearts to feel what we all have.”
Love between men was central to Whitman’s consciousness and vision:
“Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.”
Edward Carpenter was also an acolyte of Whitman, and travelled to the USA to meet him. Bucke tells us that Carpenter’s own cosmic vision came in 1881 and was encapsulated in his book of poetry ‘Toward Democracy’:
The sun shines, as of old; the stars look down from heaven; the
moon, crescent, sails in the twilight; on bushy tops in the warm
nights, naked, with mad dance and song, the earth-children address
themselves to love;
Civilisation sinks and swims, but the old facts remain – the sun
smiles, knowing well its strength….
Tears and lamentations are no more. Life and death lie stretched
below me. I breathe the sweet aether blowing of the breath of God.
Deep as the universe is my life – and I know it; nothing can
dislodge the knowledge of it; nothing can destroy, nothing can
Joy, joy arises – I arise. The sun darts overpowering piercing
rays of joy through me, the night radiates it from me.
I take wings through the night and pass through all the wildernesses
of the worlds, and the old dark holds of tears and death –
and return with laughter, laughter, laughter:
Sailing through the starlit spaces on outspread wings, we two –
0 laughter! laughter! Laughter!
Freedom! the deep breath! the word heard centuries and
centuries beforehand; the soul singing low and passionate to itself:
Not as in a dream. The earth remains and daily life remains, and
the scrubbing of doorsteps, and the house and the care of the
house remains; but Joy fills it, fills the house full and swells to
the sky and reaches the stars: all Joy!
0 freed soul! soul that has completed its relation to the body!
0 soaring, happy beyond words, into other realms passing,
salutations to you, freed, redeemed soul!
If I am not level with the lowest I am nothing; and if I did not
know for a certainty that the craziest sot in the village is my equal,
and were not proud to have him walk with me as my friend, I
would not write another word – for in this is my strength.
Bucke writes that Carpenter: “As a direct result of the oncoming of the Cosmic Sense he practically resigned his social rank and became a laborer; that is to say, he procured a few acres of land not many miles from Dronfield, in Derbyshire, built upon it a small house and lived there with the family of a working man as one of themselves.” He also became partnered with George Merrill in 1891, their relationship lasting until Carpenter’s death in 1928.
Of all the gay visionaries of the 19th century Carpenter’s vision of gay love was perhaps the most developed and ambitious. He made studies of the spiritual roles played by what he termed ‘Intermediate Types’ in various cultures historically and formed a view that they would be crucial in helping society shift from a deadly money-focussed culture to a love-centred one that would overcome ages old prejudice about the body and sexuality. His way of describing human evolution into ‘cosmic consciousness’ was in terms of the divine coming fully into embodiment.
“We are arriving at one of the most fruitful and important turning points in the history of the race. the Self is entering into relation with the Body. for, that the individual should conceive and know himself, not a toy and a chance-product of his own bodily heredity, but as identified and continuous with the Eternal Self of which his body is a manifestation, is indeed to begin a new life and to enter a hitherto undreamed world of possibilities….this transformation, whilst the greatest and most wonderful, is also of course the most difficult in Man’s evolution, for him to effect. it may roughly be said that the whole of the civilisation-period in Man’s history is the preparation for it.”
He also made a connection between people who embody masculine and feminine in themselves and the cosmic evolution:
“This interaction in fact between the masculine and the feminine, this mutual illumination of logic and meditation, may not only raise and increase the power of each of these faculties, but it may give the mind a new quality, and a new power of perception corresponding to the blending of subject and object in consciousness. It may possibly lead to the development of that third order of perception which has been called the cosmic consciousness and which may also be termed divination.” Intermediate types among primitive folks , 1913
Carpenter often used the the term Uranian for queer people, taken from German campaigner Karl Ulrichs, who dared to speak up for equality for gay men in the German parliament as early as the 1860s. These men were making an association with the culture of ancient Greece, where for 1000 years men who loved men were deeply involved at all levels of society from politics, the military to art and religion, when many gods (such as Zeus, Apollo, Dionysus) had queer associations, and where love between men was hailed for its enlightening, spiritual qualities while love for women was considered something functional and down to earth. Pindar, a poet of the early Classical Greek Age rated second only to Sappho, who wrote many poems celebrating homoerotic desire, was attuned to cosmic consciousness, and shows us the Victorians were part of an ages old mystical tradition:
Lyric poet Pindar, (518-438 BCE):
“Creatures of a day! What is anyone?
What is anyone not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being. But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blessed are their days.”
This history was of course largely forgotten, but survived in the monasteries of medieval Europe (where at the end of the 12th century for example the ‘Debate between Ganymede and Helen’ imitated Greek writing from Plutarch and Lucian that compared heterosexual and homosexual love. Helen accuses Ganymede’s love of being sterile, but he retorts that pleasure is enough. She thinks affection between the sexes is natural, but he says: “Opposites always disagree; the right way is like with like.” In another such dialogue between Ganymede and Hebe, Ganymede declares that the Gods do not judge gay sex, and that homosexual oral and anal sex have become popular in Heaven. These manuscripts were copied and widely distributed in monastic communities.)The Renaissance in Italy was a time when gay love burst forth again, inspired by the writing of ancient Greece, and fierce attempts to suppress it. There were gay artists and even gay popes. Benvenuto Cellini was called a sodomitaccio (big sodomite) by a rival sculptor in a public spat in 1545 – his quick-witted response was to declare “yet would to God that I understood so noble an art as you allude to: they say that Jove used it with Ganymede in paradise, and here upon this earth is is practised by some of the greatest emperors and kings.” (quoted in Homosexuality and Civilisation by Louis Crompton). The Elizabethan era in England also saw a flowering of queerness – in the 1590s gay playwright Christopher Marlowe was even able to write a drama about the medieval gay king Edward II. Shakespeare’s sonnets contain love paeans to a young man, in the poetic tradition of ‘Greek love’ that has persistently appeared throughout the ages. Interestingly, Richard Bucke went to great lengths in Cosmic Consciousness to argue that the ‘boy’ referred to was in fact the cosmic consciousness itself.
What is your substance, whereof are you made, That millions of strange shadows on you tend? Since every one hath, every one, one shade, And you, but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set, And you in Grecian tires are painted new:
Speak of the spring, and poison of the year; The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear; And you in every blessed shape we know.
In all external grace you have some part, But you like none, none you, for constant heart.
What has been called ‘Greek love’ also survived in the Arabic Muslim culture, including the period of Arabic rule in Spain. For a thousand years homoerotic love poetry was written by Muslims – from Persia and Afghanistan to the Ottoman Turks, north Africa to Iberia, where in a tolerant medieval atmosphere (in sharp contrast to that under Christian rulers both pre- and post the Arab occupation) such poems were also penned by Jewish writers.
Oscar Wilde got the picture, writing in 1898: “to have altered my life would have been to have admitted that Uranian love is ignoble. I hold it to be noble – more noble than any other forms”.
John Addington Symonds knew that there was a battle underway with the “new school of anthropologists and psychological physicians” who “study sexual inversion partly on the lines of historical evolution, and partly from the point of view of disease. Mixing up atavism and heredity with nervous malady in the individual, they wish to substitute medical treatment for punishment, lifelong sequestration in asylums for terms of imprisonment differing in duration according to the offence.”
He wrote that: “Up to the present time the Urning has not been considered as a sport of nature in her attempt to differentiate the sexes. Ulrichs is the only European who has maintained this view in a long series of polemical and imperfectly scientific works. Yet facts brought daily beneath the notice of openeyed observers prove that Ulrichs is justified in his main contention. Society lies under the spell of ancient terrorism and coagulated errors. Science is either wilfully hypocritical or radically misinformed. Walt Whitman, in America, regards what he calls “manly love” as destined to be a leading virtue of democratic nations, and the source of a new chivalry.”
Symonds was a gay man who had his own glimpse of what Bucke termed ‘cosmic consciousness’, while under chloroform: “I seemed at first in a state of utter blankness; then came flashes of intense light, alternating with blankness and with a keen vision of what was going on in the room round me, but no sensation of touch. I thought that I was near death, when suddenly my soul became aware of God, who was manifestly dealing with me, handling me, so to speak, in an intense personal present reality. I felt Him streaming in like light upon me and heard Him saying in no language, but as hands touch hands and communicate sensations: ‘I led thee; I guided thee; you will never sin and weep and wail in madness any more; for now you have seen Me.’ My whole consciousness seemed brought into one point of absolute conviction; the independence of my mind from my body was proved by the phenomena of this acute sensibility to spiritual facts, this utter deadness of the senses. Life and death seemed mere names… I cannot describe the ecstasy I felt.”
Bucke’s own experience of cosmic consciousness led him to believe that an evolutionary leap for humanity was coming that would be so big it would seem we had given birth to a new species:
” Along with the consciousness of the cosmos there occurs an intellectual enlightenment or illumination which alone would place the individual on a new plane of existence–would make him almost a member of a new species. To this is added a state of moral exaltation, an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation, and joyousness, and a quickening of the moral sense, which is fully as striking and more important both to the individual and to the race than is the enhanced intellectual power. With these come, what may be called a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction that he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has it already.”
He described what this would look like, envisaging a complete merging of the material and spiritual planes with no priestly intermediaries:
“The human soul will be revolutionized. Religion will absolutely dominate the race. It will not depend on tradition. It will not be believed and disbelieved. It will not be a part of life, belonging to certain hours, times, occasions. It will not be in sacred books nor in the mouths of priests. It will not dwell in churches and meetings and forms and days. Its life will not be in prayers, hymns nor discourses. It will not depend on special revelations, on the words of gods who came down to teach, nor on any bible or bibles. It will have no mission to save men from their sins or to secure them entrance to heaven. It will not teach a future immortality nor future glories, for immortality and all glory will exist in the here and now. The evidence of immortality will live in every heart as sight in every eye. Doubt of God and of eternal life will be as impossible as is now doubt of existence; the evidence of each will be the same. Religion will govern every minute of every day of all life. Churches, priests, forms, creeds, prayers, all agents, all intermediaries between the individual man and God will be permanently replaced by direct unmistakable intercourse. Sin will no longer exist nor will salvation be desired. Men will not worry about death or a future, about the kingdom of heaven, about what may come with and after the cessation of the life of the present body. Each soul will feel and know itself to be immortal, will feel and know that the entire universe with all its good and with all its beauty is for it and belongs to it forever. The world peopled by men possessing cosmic consciousness will be as far removed from the world of today as this is from the world as it was before the advent of self consciousness.”
Bucke describes his awakening to cosmic consciousness thus:
“At the age of thirty he fell in with “Leaves of Grass,” and at once saw that it contained, in greater measure than any book so far found, what he had so long been looking for. He read the “Leaves” eagerly, even passionately, but for several years derived little from them. At last light broke and there was revealed to him (as far perhaps as such things can be revealed) at least some of the meanings. Then occurred that to which the foregoing is preface. It was in the early spring, at the beginning of his thirty-sixth year. He and two friends had spent the evening reading Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Browning, and especially Whitman. They parted at midnight, and he had a long drive in a hansom (it was in an English city). His mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images and emotions called up by the reading and talk of the evening, was calm and peaceful. He was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment. All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around as it were by a flame-colored cloud. For an instant he thought of fire, some sudden conflagration in the great city; the next, he knew that the light was within himself. Directly afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Into his brain streamed one momentary lightning-flash of the Brahmic Splendor which has ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an aftertaste of heaven. Among other things he did not come to believe, he saw and knew that the Cosmos is not dead matter but a living Presence, that the soul of man is immortal, that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain. He claims that he learned more within the few seconds during which the illumination lasted than in previous months or even years of study, and that he learned much that no study could ever have taught. The illumination itself continued not more than a few moments, but its effects proved ineffaceable; it was impossible for him ever to forget what he at that time saw and knew; neither did he, or could he, ever doubt the truth of what was then presented to his mind.”
He stated that:
“With illumination the fear of death which haunts so many men and women at times all their lives falls off like an old cloak–not, however, as a result of reasoning–it simply vanishes… The same may be said of the sense of sin. It is not that the person escapes from sin; but he no longer sees that there is any sin in the world from which to escape.”
Medieval Christian mystics said the same thing after their own illuminations. Entire counter-cultures to the Catholic Church were built on the belief in the possibility of entering a holy union with God, while alive, after which sin became irrelevant. The Church suppressed such teachings and destroyed the heretical groups who followed them, as it did same sex love, especially virulently from the 14th century onwards.
Bucke sites examples of great men in history whom he considered to have reached the state of cosmic consciousness, from the Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed to William Blake, Whitman and Carpenter, plus a number of men and women he thought had reached a ‘twilight stage’ of partial illumination. These included some whom he listed only by their initials, and short biographical details might incline us to think at least some of the people mentioned were queer. Clues come in references to liking solitude, being at home with trees, fellowship with animals, ardent spiritual devotion.
Quoted examples of their cosmic illuminations include:
“The first real mental illumination I remember to have experienced was when I saw that the universe exists in each of its individual atoms–that is, the universe is the result of a few simple processes infinitely repeated. When a drop of water has been mathematically measured, every principle will have been used which would be called for in the measurement of the heavens. All life on the globe is sustained by digestion and assimilation; when by voluntary and traumatic action these stop death follows. The history of an individual mind is the history of the race. Know one thing in its properties and relations and you will know all things. All crystallography is in one grain of sand, all animal life in one insect, all vegetable in a single bud. I was then about forty… My next was when I saw there was no boundary line between vegetable and animal life, and hence no beginning nor end to either…
“What I then saw dimly, or as ‘through a glass darkly,’ now shines all about me with a brightness exceeding that of the sun. In its light I see that love and justice cannot be limited by what, in the poverty of our ignorance, we call time and space. Hence all the thinking and all the teaching that has been done in the world, founded in our ideas of time and space, are blown away like chaff, or are consumed like ‘wood, hay and stubble.’” H.B.
“I went into the yard to the pump, and just as I got there it came–a shock, a flood of light, and along with, or immediately following, the shock and the subjective glow–like a great internal blaze–came the feeling of absolute harmony with the power that made all things and is in all things. All striving stopped–there was nothing to strive for–I was at peace.” W.H.W.
“Recognizing my own inner consciousness, the psyche, so clearly, death did not seem to me to affect the personality. In dissolution there was no bridgeless chasm, no unfathomable gulf of separation; the spirit did not immediately become inaccessible, leaping at a bound to an immeasurable distance.
“To me everything is supernatural. It is impossible to wrest the mind down to the same laws that rule pieces of timber.
“When I consider that I dwell this moment in the eternal Now that has ever been and will be, that I am in the midst of immortal things this moment, that there probably are souls as infinitely superior to mine as mine to a piece of timber–what, then, is a “miracle”?
“I feel on the margin of a life unknown, very near, almost touching it–on the verge of powers which, if I could grasp, would give me an immense breadth of existence. Sometimes a very ecstasy of exquisite enjoyment of the entire universe filled me. I want more ideas of soul-life. I am certain that there are more yet to be found. A great life–an entire civilization–lies just outside the pale of common thought.” Richard Jeffries
“In the month of February, 1890, just following my thirty-seventh birthday, Rev. J. E. L., of Canada, came to assist me in a series of special meetings in my church. My affection for him gained during his stay. He had been gone three days when, thinking of him far through the night–the gray of the morning was already in the heavens–the conviction came to me that in him I had met an incarnation of Christ. I stood a moment transfixed with the thought. Was that which I had held as a theory to be realized as a fact? My friend was forgotten in the vision of Christ, who had come to me, not from without, but through the gates which open inwardly. I knew him, was conscious of him in my own spirit, soul and body. Then with that unfolding consciousness there came a suffusion, as of a delicate cloud or haze, which searched the entire body, was more invasive than light, more penetrating than heat, more inreaching than electricity. It was as if I had been plunged into a bath of fluid more subtle and permeating than ether. Against the inflow and outflow of that enswathing essence the body was not as resistant as the air to a bird’s wing or a morning mist to the sunbeam. The rapture, the exaltation, the divinity of that moment passes knowledge. Then swiftly came the awe of the mysterious [p. 331] presence that filled me, and the consciousness of the whole creation, universe, went thrilling through me, not as a thought, a sensation, an emotion, but as the vital breath of God. This grew until I found myself rising and expanding into the Infinite, being diffused and lost therein, and the mind and body reeled.” M.C.L.
“As to my illumination: I was going to New York City one morning in January, 1897, on a train, to do some hospital work. I was reading Carpenter. It was a beautiful winter morning. I think I was near the Bay Bridge, or on it, when the Thought came. There was no particular sensation, except that something beautiful and great seemed to have happened me, which I could only describe in terms of light. Yet it was purely mental. But everything looked different to me. I went about the city that day calm, but glad and uplifted. The thing I remember most was a wonder how soon the sensation, or impression, would leave me. I was latently sceptical, and thought it a temporary inspiration, like that of a poem. But days, weeks, months, passed, and I found the shoot which had broken ground that winter morning was ever growing, strengthening and changing all the scenery of my life.” J William Lloyd
“The glory of this truth, the grandeur of this character, the supreme nobility, patience, wisdom and love of this life, thrilled me with ecstasy and awe [p. 353] unspeakable–filled me, possessed me. He lives, not in some distant heaven on a great white throne, but here and now; is not coming, but is here with us, loving, helping, living, cheering and inspiring the race to which he belongs, as wholly and as truly as the race belongs to him. Now, indeed, it is plain, that being lifted up he shall lift all men with him–has lifted, is lifting and must ever continue to lift out of the very essence of his transcendent humanity. Immortality is no longer an hypothesis of the theologian, a figment of the imagination, a dream of the poet.
“”This is the truth given age upon age to all men in all lands, and persistently misunderstood–the truth at last to be seen of all men in its fullness and purity. Man is to know himself, and with full command of his conditions and unlimited time for action, is not only to soar toward, but absolutely attain to heights of being and of beauty hitherto undreamed of, and bringing fairly within his realization a heaven on earth.” Paul Tyner
One of the women in Bucke’s list is quoted saying:
“In my experience the “subjective light” was not something seen–a sensation as distinct from an emotion–it was emotion itself–ecstasy. It was the gladness and rapture of love, so intensified that it became an ocean of living, palpitating light, the brightness of which outshone[**] the brightness of the sun. Its glow, warmth and tenderness filling the universe. That infinite ocean was the eternal love, the soul of nature and all one endless smile!
“The consciousness of completeness and permanence in myself is one with that of the completeness and permanence of nature. This feeling is quite distinct from any that I had before illumination and has sprung from that. I often ponder on it and wonder what has happened–what change can have taken place in me to so poise and individualize me. My feeling is as if I were as distinct and separate from all other beings and things as is the moon in space and at the same time indissolubly one with all nature. Out of this experience was born an unfaltering trust. Deep in the soul, below pain, below all the distraction of life, is a silence vast and grand–an infinite ocean of calm, which nothing can disturb; Nature’s own exceeding peace, which “passes understanding.” That which we seek with passionate longing, here and there, upward and outward, we find at last within ourselves. The kingdom within! The indwelling God! are words whose sublime meaning we never shall fathom.” C.M.C.
Bucke points out the:
“…incompatibility between the socalled religions–in other words, the churches–and Cosmic Consciousness. The man who enters or is to enter the latter either never belonged to a church, as Walt Whitman, or leaves the church before illumination, as C. M. C. did, or immediately upon illumination… Churches are inevitable and doubtless indispensable on the plane of self consciousness, but are probably (in any shape) impossible on the Cosmic Conscious plane.”
Precursors in western thought to Bucke include early 18th century German philosophers Friedrich Schleiermacher, who described a three stage map of animal, sensual and higher consciousness, the part of us “that is capable of transcending animal instincts” – the “point of contact with God” – and George Hegel‘s concept of Geist, or Spirit. Since Bucke there have been at least two prominent prophets of cosmic consciousness in the 20th century – Teilhard de Chardin, who saw all life evolving to an ‘Omega Point’ of unification and Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo.
Born in 1872, Aurobindo was in his early life a fighter for liberation from the British Empire, but while in jail accused of plotting a bomb attack that killed two British women in 1908 he had spiritual experiences that changed his life. On his return to India he settled in Pondicherry and devoted his life to work for a greater freedom, for all humanity. He lived until 1950 and is probably the 20th century’s greatest mystic, producing epic works that detail his vision of the ‘supramental evolution’ as we grow into the ‘Supermind’.
“Man is shut up at present in his surface individual consciousness and knows the world only through his outward mind and senses and by interpreting their contacts with the world. By Yoga there can open in him a consciousness which becomes one with that of the world; he becomes directly aware of a universal Being, universal states, universal Force and Power, universal Mind, Life, Matter and lives in conscious relations with these things. He is then said to have cosmic consciousness”,
Only the illimitable Permanent
Is here. A Peace stupendous, featureless, still.
Replaces all, – what once was I, in It
A silent unnamed emptiness content
Either to fade in the Unknowable
Or thrill with the luminous seas of the Infinite.
(From Aurobindo’s poem Nirvana)
The vast universal suffering feel as thine:
Thou must bear the sorrow that thou claimst to heal;
The day-bringer must walk in darkest night.
He who would save the world must share its pain.
If he knows not grief, how shall he find grief’s cure?
If far he walks above mortality’s head,
How shall the mortal reach that too high path?
If one of theirs they see scale heaven’s peaks,
Men then can hope to learn that titan climb.
God must be born on earth and be as man
That man being human may grow even as God.
He, like Bucke, saw the arrival via evolution of a new kind of human:
I saw them cross the twilight of an age
The sun-eyed children of a marvelous dawn…
The massive barrier-breakers of the world..
The architects of immortality…
Bodies made beautiful by the Spirit’s light,
Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire,
Carrying the Dionysian cup of joy..
The reference to Dionysus takes us all the way back to mythologies and queerness – for Dionysus was one of the many queer deities of the ancient world. Embodying male and femaleness, he was celebrated for introducing ecstatic intoxication to humanity, which in ancient times was considered a blissful state of union with the spiritual realms, Dionysus was a hugely popular deity for many centuries across the ancient world. Even the Hebrews at the time of Jesus had coins with portraits of Dionysus on them.
As humanity struggles to come to terms with and face the challenges of the 21st century we can learn from the mystics of the ages and especially of recent times who brought that mystic vision out of the monasteries and into the hands of each and every human. On the internet today we can find no limit to the number of people discovering and declaring their discovery of, or belief in the reality of, cosmic consciousness. From a few lone voices the seed was spread. Note please that many of the voices of the cosmic vision are those of same sex lovers.
Edward Carpenter believed the Uranians would lead the conscious revolution, and teach the world about the true power of love to awaken the soul, but in order to do that we Uranians have to get conscious ourselves. Many gay people steer away from spiritual pursuits because of the legacy of religious hatred still manifesting in the world today, but probably do not know that the reason religion turned against us in the first place was because we were the ones who served in the pagan temples, because we naturally embodied the liberty of spirit through our very beings. In the temples of Asherah, mentioned in the Book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible, we were known as the Holy Ones – the Qedesha – which became ‘sodomites’ in the King James translation.
There is an integral link between genderfluidity, homosexuality and the sacred. In the late 19th century some men were experiencing this for themselves and daring to write about it, but they were competing with the harsh categorizations of anthropology and psychology. Only in the 1960s did law reform come in the UK, and it was only removed from the list of recognised psychological illnesses in the 1970s. Suddenly in the 1980s our fresh new community was struck by the biggest spiritual crisis ever – AIDS. All our recent gains seemed under threat. We had to fight for our survival on the basic level, and the deeper search for meaningful community and for the roots of our nature was not undertaken by many. But AIDS also woke some of us to a bigger spiritual reality. It is due to the spiritual search and mystical awakening to cosmic consciousness that I underwent in the mid 1990s that I have been researching and exploring the link between my sexuality and my spirit ever since.
My explorations have taken me into witchy Queer Pagan fires, cosy Edward Carpenter Community retreats and to Radical Faerie sanctuaries. In all these places I find people well aware of the gap between the world’s concept of us and the multidimensional reality of our queer, world-connecting nature. We are walkers between the worlds, which is why we are known for our love of substance use and ecstatic states. Like shamans and gay priests of old, we open gates to spiritual bliss through our bodies. This is why our parties are so good. We transcend mental barriers of shame and guilt, imposed notions of sin, of right and wrong, and so access more of the true divinity in human nature, our forgotten Oneness with all Creation.
“Heterosexual attraction manifests the delight
the Many experience in its variety.
Heterosexual union propagates the Many,
from Two making many more.
“Homosexual attraction manifests the delight
the One experiences in its Oneness.
Homosexual love witnesses to the One’s desire to return to Itself and
to experience the multiplicity of the Many
as a reflection of the Self of the One.”
Quote from Toby Johnson, author of Gay Spirituality, Gay Perspective and other works.