Counterculture: Past and Present - 1
As a society gradually builds a culture characterizing its way of life and embodying its collective beliefs and ideals, it usually discards many of those which still existing cultures hold or have held to be fundamental to their way of life. A new spiritual impulse is appropriated by discontented, oppressed, or more primitive groups of human beings, who often violently repudiate the old beliefs while adopting as their own new ideas and symbols which apparently are needed for their mental and emotional development. In the same manner, children often discover what they take to be their authentic nature by rebelling against the beliefs and cultured behavior which their parents have tried to teach as absolutes of truth, conduct, and morality. Later on, having grown up and, after various crises, having developed a broader mind and more mature feeling-responses, they may reconsider this stand and, with modifications made necessary by changes in their social and intellectual environment, accept what they had once emotionally rebelled against as naive childhood's beliefs.
Some of these beliefs may nevertheless have remained latent below the level of consciousness. In his mid-forties or fifties an individual often returns to previously discarded concepts and feelings which no longer seem so naive; these acquire a new glow, a new meaning. A similar process occurs in the development of an entire society; and what has been happening in the Western world suggests that our civilization is experiencing its "change of life."
A growing number of intellectuals, and even of official representatives of the Euro-American tradition whose task it is to transmit it to the younger generations, have finally come to realize that, throughout the entire history of European culture, an uninterrupted current of ideas, beliefs, and practices considered archaic, naive, and religiously or morally heretical has existed, as it were, in counterpoint to the mainstream of official thinking and even, in some cases, of Church-approved morality. We speak today of our "counterculture"; but the numerous secret societies which have persisted or changed from one into the other since the days of the early Councils that hammered an orthodoxy out of the mass of conflicting remains of ancient cults and mythological concepts, represent a persistent counterculture movement.
Our entire Christian-European civilization has been based on the belief that the coming of Christ established a quasi-absolute line of demarcation between what mankind was before and what it became after this historical event. What came before Christianity was considered pagan and unworthy of being retained, except that part of the Hebrew historical tradition and mentality which could be interpreted as a preparation for the age of Christian truth and glory, plus the more intellectual aspects of Greek philosophy used to provide a rational framework for the super-rational mystery of the Incarnation and Resurrection. Everything else had to be eradicated from the mind of a new Christian humanity — the books burnt, the statues and temples destroyed. When such a wholesale orgy of destruction occurs — and this often happens when a new culture is born or imposed upon a disintegrating society — the inevitable reaction is an underground attempt to sustain and perpetuate some at least of the more essential features of the almost entirely destroyed past culture and cultures. Such attempts may be, and probably are, inspired and at first led by men who have a direct connection with what may have been kept intact of the core of the old culture.
These men and their successors have to go "underground"; and anything that is able to maintain itself and grow under such conditions has certain inevitable characteristics. It must develop a great deal of mental as well as physical toughness. It has to give absolute value to the past — to the "tradition"; it must have an inbred resistance to change, a profound spiritual as well as mental "inertia" (in the true sense of the term). In most cases a group dedicated to the preservation of the past must remain secret and jealously guard its secrecy. It can nevertheless, from time to time, allow some of its members to try directly or indirectly to influence at least a section of the official culture which may contain a number of dissatisfied and restless individuals. Perhaps under the cover of some kind of social or cultural device — and by utilizing either a fashionable wave of enthusiasm for some unusual idea or phenomenon or a socio-political crisis which impels people to ask disturbing questions — "emissaries" of the secret group may be able to reintroduce into the mainstream of the culture ideas which constitute a vital challenge to the official mentality and the socio-educational Establishment.
If these ideas arouse the enthusiasm of even a small but dynamic section of the people, the term "countercultural movement" is applicable, the appearance of this phenomenon on the outer stage of history can be traced to a number of factors — social, economic, political and, recently, industrial — with which the official historian is accustomed to deal. But these existential factors may also be related to a deeper cause, that is, to the hidden ("occult") fact that the time has come for a change of rhythm — a "structural" or functional change — in the cyclic process underlying the evolution of a civilization; just as puberty and the change of life mark basic functional changes in the biopsychic rhythm of an individual human being, regardless of the external conditions and pressures affecting his outer life.
We might give as an example the outstanding counterculture which for a time flourished in Southern France during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, especially around the town of Albi. This Albigenses culture can be considered a counterculture because it developed on the basis of ancient near-Eastern concepts which had been repudiated by the Catholic Church and its powerful political supporters. It was a beautiful movement giving rise to a new and idealistic approach to womanhood and love, which for a time influence even the Northerner's way of life. Many social and political factors — especially the first Crusades — contributed to the development of the movement. But it was ruthlessly destroyed during what historians call the Crusade against the Albigenses. This was engineered by the French King and the Pope, then the two main powers in control of the mainstream of medieval European culture. Soon after, the Templars, who had been deeply influenced by some of the traditions of the old Mediterranean religions which Christianity had fought against and rejected, were also relentlessly persecuted and killed.
Later on, the communalistic movement begun by the Bohemian, John Huss, was also violently eradicated by Popes and kings. Alchemists and Rosicrucians escaped persecution because they lived a two-level existence, keeping their beliefs and the true nature of their work secret. The guilds of operative masons from which the Free Masonry of the eighteenth century emerged as an influential force in the sociopolitical field were, at least to some extent, manifestations of a countercultural trend hidden behind their "operative" activities. Here and there this trend also produced mystical groups and outstanding individuals who, while still accepting outwardly the religious framework of the Church and the main teachings of the universities, actually challenged the dogmatic structures of the official European civilization.
The Romantic movement of the nineteenth century, pioneered toward the end of the eighteenth by men Jean-Jacques, Rousseau, Blake, the young Goethe, Beethoven, and the more mysterious Mesmer, strongly reacted against the intellect-worshiping rationalism of the preceding century naively calling itself "the Enlightenment." After 1840 in America the Spiritualistic movement opened wide a mist-enshrouded door separating the world of rationally explainable phenomena from some vast unknown realm already being catalogued by official philosophers and psychologists as "the Unconscious." When, in 1874-75, H. P. Blavatsky appeared on the American scene, she had to use the Spiritualists' approach in order to gain some kind of public recognition. Soon afterward she declared herself the emissary of a trans-Himalayan Occult Brotherhood. In this capacity, she became the fountainhead and inspirer of a movement which, in its original form, struck at the very roots of Euro-American orthodoxy in religion and science.
The Transcendental movement in New England had already opened a channel of communication with the philosophy of India, which also inspired the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, though she later repudiated this influence. The young disciples who gathered in Chicago around the Parliament of Religion — close to the time of Blavatsky's death (1891) and that of the Persian Prophet Baha'u'llah who had proclaimed himself the Divine manifestation for the New Age (1892) — provided a multiheaded start for the New Thought movement. Soon thereafter Swami Vivekananda who, with the young Buddhist Anagarika Dhammaphala, brought an extraordinary vivid breath of Indian spirituality to the Parliament, initiated the Vedanta Movement in New England. Though Vivekananda died in 1902, the Vedanta Movement survived him, and not only developed many branches, but became an inspiration for the growth of many more recent attempts made by Hindu Holy Men to build ashrams or spiritual communities — the earliest being the movement began Swami Yogananda which is still flourishing.
By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1975 by Dane Rudhyar
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