Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to spend more time exploring new opportunities, while spending less time looking at all the obstacles. Or, to put it differently, I want to rediscover the creativity I had as a young man, without the deep misery that accompanied it. This is difficult, because creativity is inseparable from madness, which is inseparable from misery. Good poets stick their head in the oven, good musicians die of heroin overdoses, good writers die of liver cirrhosis. Of course, my output is not solely diminished because I have lost inspiration, another reason is because I hold myself to higher standards and have been around for long enough to realize I change my mind quite often and don’t always appreciate having to blatantly contradict myself at a later point in time. For this reason, I have created the fiction archive, where I have archived some stories I’ve written over the years, that I look back at with fond memories. I look back most fondly at fiction, I think this tells me something about the direction I need to be looking at.
Creativity can be compared a bit to an animal grazing in a field of ideas. If the animal sticks around in the same space for too long, the grass is consumed and nothing new can be found. The animal has no other option than to move elsewhere. Similarly, if you find yourself running out of things to produce, it’s time to move into another mental space. I’ve moved through a lot of different mental spaces over the years and I haven’t completely abandoned any of them, I carry the memories with me. As an example, I still deeply sympathize with most of Ted Kaczynski’s ideas. However, I can’t agree to his conclusions. I think lab-grown meat and legalized abortion will be more effective at addressing deforestation than any attempt by angry young men to try to bring down industrial civilization.
In my experience so far, the most effective way of forcing yourself out of an exhausted mental space is to go out and meet new people. This is what I’m doing. It’s very easy to get stuck reading the same short list of authors, listening to the same bands and entertaining the same limited range of ideas. Meeting someone new exposes you to ideas you would otherwise never encounter or consider. Most important is to meet people who are in some aspect different from you. As an example of what I mean, if you’re a ponytailed intellectual, working at a tech-startup, visiting a heavy metal concert, an
angry white male alt-right meetup group and playing a DND campaign is likely to expose you to people who are similar to you in all the ways you should be meeting people who differ from you. There needs to be common ground, in the form of some shared interests and personality traits, but surrounding yourself with people who are excessively similar to you is harmful and cognitively stunting. Spending forty hours at work every week exposes me to people who are similar to me, in aspects where I need to meet people who differ from me.
Fortunately, I’m meeting new people. In fact, I have a visitor next weekend and I think some of you can guess who it might be. You don’t benefit from meeting just about anyone. It’s important to meet people who are genuinely intelligent. Studies show that working beneath your skill level reduces your cognitive capacity. The brain adjusts to the environment it’s exposed to. For similar reasons as John Michael Greer has also pointed out, you benefit from reading literature, particularly old literature. Literature exposes you to the internal mental processes of another person. To expose yourself to the ideas and mindset of someone who lived centuries ago can be profoundly useful for this reason. It’s not just simple facts or value orientations you expose yourself to. It’s the entire complete mindset, from subtle tastes, to forms of interpretations, etcetera. I often see the claim that college teaches you “how to think”. I think that’s stupid and Orwellian. I don’t want to be taught “how to think”, I want to expose myself to different ways of thinking and switch between the ways that happen to attract me. Literature, teaches you how other people think.
One of my main two motives for exploring psychedelics is the conviction I have that psychedelics have the potential to increase creativity. The other main motive is the improvement in mood. The main two psychedelics I seek to explore are cactuses and the sage. For similar reasons, small amounts of alcohol are profoundly useful to stimulate creative activities, particularly writing. An author’s mind under the influence of alcohol has less executive control. This helps him to pursue ideas he would otherwise have disregarded, often due to the improved confidence alcohol delivers. Poets in particular benefit from alcohol. The price you pay for creativity is premature death, of yourself and the people you love. It’s a price worth paying however.
Another activity I’m planning to undertake to help steer me towards a new direction, is to contact my Genius. Renaissance occultists, like the Romans before them, believed that every man is ruled by a genius. The genius in turn, is under the influence of one of the seven heavenly bodies, which manifests itself in the personality of the individual. Alexander the Great’s reign marks the start of one particular noteworthy tradition. William Woodthorpe Tarn, a scholar on the Hellenistic world, pointed out that the Hellenistic ruler cult involved the veneration of the ruler’s genius, rather the the ruler himself. The Greeks at the time believed in nature spirits known as daimons, who shared characteristics of both mortals and deities. Every man was said to have his own daimon. In classical Rome, every man was thought of as having a genius of his own, who followed him from birth until death and inspired him to greatness. Slaves made oaths by the name of their master’s genius. Volcanoes and other prominent places were said to have their own genius too. The concept is still known to us today, in the form of guardian angels, who are said to watch over an protect us. The guardian angel however, is a concept inherited from a dogmatic religion known as Catholicism that claims to deliver us absolute infallible truths but preaches that suicidal pregnant teenage girls who were raped should be forbidden from having abortions.
The occultism of the Renaissance is a rebirth of the Greco-Roman polytheism that predates Christianity. Its remnants survive in Catholicism, but it gave birth to the scientific tradition as well. The Romanian scholar Ciulianu noted in his book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, that the occult practices of the Renaissance era survive today in disciplines like psychology and marketing (a form of applied psychology). The occultism of Giordano Bruno focused on the manipulation of love and the use of memory techniques. If you’re watching a commercial on TV for a celebrity fragrance, you’re exposed to the manipulation of your romantic longings, through elaborate and carefully orchestrated ceremonies in which colors, sounds and images are combined to create an otherworldly experience. You zap to another channel and find yourself exposed to a jingle that lingers in your head for the rest of the day. You have just been exposed to black magic!
Similarly, there are people in offices somewhere, who redesign websites to fit particular color schemes shown to put people in a state of mind that leads them to trust the information they’re reading, or eager to buy a product. It seems bizarre to us, when Pope Urban VIII and his closest adviser Campanella lock themselves up in a dark room, to light incense, light candles representing the seven heavenly bodies and put up silk drapes to create an atmosphere unaffected by an eclipse he feared would cause his death. This happened in an era before empiricism rose to the forefront of society. When a culture changes sufficiently, it fails to understand its predecessors, who spent their days engaged in activities and faced with struggles and unresolved questions that generally differed surprisingly little from our own. Your A-&-B test model shows a 22% increased click-through rate when you change the background color of your site to blue. You say the same things as Giordano Bruno or Campanella, but in a different language.
The materialism on which our worldview is based and through which our minds filter the information received by our senses is a historical anomaly, that makes it difficult for us to understand the worldviews of preceding eras. It is an intellectual descendant of our Christian religious heritage in which divinity is placed externally to us. It’s a relatively small step to go from an angry vengeful God who created the whole universe in six days, to a dead universe derived from chaos, with an awkward period of deism in between.
It’s more difficult to arrive at the idea of a universe composed of lifeless matter, from the perspective of a universe that is alive. This is the perspective that held sway in Europe before Christianization, when our densely forested continent inherited the religious traditions of a people who spent their lives in the dry and lifeless desert of the Levant. The Romans believed in the idea of the Anima Mundi, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet. This manifests itself for example, in the Roman practice of augury. If the whole world is alive and all living things share an intrinsic connection, it becomes worthwhile to look for potential patterns in nature that we can learn from.
Because there exists such a giant gap between our modern worldview and the perspective that precedes our own, it can be an alienating experience for those of us who study classical paganism and its rebirth in the Renaissance. As I stated earlier however, ideas rarely disappear overnight. Through Carl Jung and disciples of his like Marie-Louise von Franz, we discover a reinterpretation of the deities as dormant psychological archetypes within our own mind through which we interpret the world. Whether this is a complete and thorough understanding of the subject matter is a question I’ll leave unanswered. It is however, a very useful perspective for people who are making their first careful steps in a new mental space.
“This is difficult, because creativity is inseparable from madness, which is inseparable from misery.”
This is a myth. Misery is not always the fuel for great works of art. I’d also rather say that great art is created despite its creator being miserable. On a personal level, I wrote worse things when I suffered from mild depression.
There are plenty of counter-examples of artists who do not seem to have been severely depressed. I would be surprised if Stanley Kubrick made all his work severely depressed for instance. Or Frank Zappa.