Orage and “New Age Consciousness”
by Revilo P. Oliver (pictured)
A. R. ORAGE, THE MAN who popularized the phrase “New Age” in the early 20th century, and who honestly concluded on his deathbed that he had learned nothing of significance about the nature of life, here tries to lead the unwary reader to what is essentially the old notion of a “higher consciousness” (blissfully above thought and mental effort) or “cosmic consciousness,” which, when it actually occurs, is an hallucination produced by auto-hypnosis.
When I was a youngster, there was for a time a vogue for a book by P. D. Uspenski, Tertium Organum, which, in a long and rambling discourse, tried to conjure up a “higher” and super-rational consciousness from the then comparatively novel conceptions of Einsteinian relativity. Seeing the book taken seriously by presumably well-educated adults, most of them women, I obtained a copy and tried to understand it, until I realized that, whatever may be possible in mathematical theory or fantasy, no one has ever seen a tennis ball turned inside out without rupture of its outer surface.
Talk about a “higher consciousness” superior to reason naturally comforts persons who find mental exertion painful, and notions about transcendental powers naturally console persons who do not have the courage or stamina to confront the realities of a universe that was not made for man. These ideas, in the form in which they are peddled by Uspenski and Orage, are derived from the early Hindu mystics of the Vedas and Upanishads. They did reach a state of exalted consciousness — by the use of what they called soma, which, as R. G. Weston has shown, was simply the Amanita muscaria, a mushroom that has been for millennia a prime source of religiosity.
The struggle for existence in a universe we did not choose, and the burden of being a member of the only race which values objective, verifiable truth as an end in itself, makes us sometimes long for escape from reality — in some cases through a literature of the fantastic, of marvelous dream worlds, of free-ranging fantasy. But we must not confuse that necessary escape with what is real. Permit me to suggest to the reader that it is a waste of his time and energy to play with fantasies that lack the literary and aesthetic charm of poetry and imaginative prose fiction.
— February 1977