Dreams of Flying
by Robert Anton Wilson
from Magical Blend #19, May-June-July 1988
reprinted in Email to the Universe
I have recently been reading a most enjoyable novel called The Dream Illuminati by Wayne Saalman (Falcon Press, Santa Monica, 1988). Mr. Saalman has found an epic theme – dreams of flight, and the achievement of flight.
Historically, dreams of flying appeared in the collective unconscious before the reality of flight existed in technology, and it seems plausible that if we understood our dreams better we would use our technology more wisely. Our machines manifest our dreams in matter crafted to coherence, and a psychoanalysis of our culture could easily derive from an examination of how we use science to materialize our fantasies and nightmares.
Mr. Saalman’s science-fantasy made me wonder: Why have we always dreamed of flying, and why have we built flying machines? This question seems “eminently” worth pondering in a world where 200,000,000 people pass through Kennedy International Airport every year, flying the Atlantic in one direction or the other.
To understand the profound, it often appears helpful to begin with clues that seem trivial. I suggest that we contemplate what our children look at every Saturday morning on TV. One of the most popular jokes in animated cartoons shows the protagonist walking off a cliff, without noticing what he has done. Sublimely ignorant, he continues to walk-on air-until he notices that he has been doing the “impossible,” and then he falls. I doubt very much that there will be any reader of Magical Blend who has not seen that routine at least onec; most of us have seen it a few hundred times.
It might seem pretentious to see a Jungian archetype adumbrated in crude form in this Hollywood cliché, but follow me for a moment.
When Hollywood wishes to offer us the overtly mythic, it presents Superman, who can “leap over tall buildings in a single bound,” and a more recent hero named Luke Skywalker.
The Tarot, that condensed encyclopedia of the collective unconscious, begins with the card called The Fool, and the Fool is depicted walking off a cliff-just like Donald Duck or Wily Coyote in the cartoons. Funny coincidence, what?
A Greek legend (which James Joyce took as the archetype of the life of the artist) tells us of Daedalus and Icarus: Daedalus who, imprisoned in a labyrinth (conventional “reality”), invented wings and flew away, over the heads of his persecutors, and Icarus, the son of Daedalus, who flew too close to the Sun Absolute and fell back to Earth. Like Porky Pig walking off a cliff, Icarus’ fall contains a symbolism many have encountered in their own dreams.
The Sufi order employs as its emblem a heart with wings (and the Ordo Templi Orientis employs a circle – symbolizing both emptiness and completion – with wings). The Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth, had the head of a winged creature, the ibis; his Greek equivalent, Hermes, was portrayed as more human, but had bird’s wings on his sandals.
The Wright Brothers, who made flying possible for all of us, remain beloved figures in the folk imagination-but how many readers can name the inventors ouch equally marvelous (but earthbound) devices as the television, the vacuum cleaner, the computer, the laser or the modern indoor toilet? Yet while other geniuses seem “forgotten by the masses,” the classic put-down to satirize any conservative who sets limits to what human art can accomplish remains “I told Wilbur and I told Orville, you’ll never get that crate off the ground.”
I suspect that part of the function of flight consists in destroying our concept of limit; opening us to the insight Dr. John Lilly expressed so eloquently in The Center of the Cyclone:
In the province of the mind, what is believed to be true is true or becomes true, within limits to be found experimentally and experientially. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the province of the mind, there are no limits.
The poet Hart Crane, trying to describe what Wilbur and Orville Wright meant to his generation (he died in the 1930s), wrote that from Kitty Hawk onward, he sensed “the closer clasp of Mars.” By 1938 people tuning in on an Orson Welles radio program after the drama started believed they were, hearing a newscast and the Martians were already here. A quantum jump had occurred in the limits of our social imagination_ Humanity had, like the poet, sensed the “closer clasp” of Mars.
Just slightly more than 30 years later, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, like a character in the fiction of Jules Verne, and ten years later, our instruments invaded the Martian desert already familiar to “us” through the visions of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury. If this does not confirm William Blake’s notorious claim that “Poetic Imagination” should be considered another name for “God,“ it certainly suggests that Poetic Imagination may function as another name for Destiny.
Perhaps we should ponder more deeply on the fact that Daedalus means “artist“ in Greek. Daedulus, designer of labyrinths, imprisoned by those he served in a labyrinth he himself built – Daedalus, inventor of wings that took him from the Earth to Outer Space – why does he represent Art, instead of Science?
Well, to understand this we must remember that the ancient Greeks did not distinguish Art from Science as we do. The genius of an artist, Aristotle says, lies in his texne, the root from which we get our word “technology;” but texne basically means skill or craft, or the ability to make things that never existed before.
In our age, by contrast, Stravinsky was regarded as “witty” or “paradoxical” (or deliberately enigmatic) when he called him-self a “sound engineer.” An artist who considers himself a kind of engineer? That is a hard thought for us to grasp. Yet a few moments’ reflection will show that as much precise structural knowledge can be found in Stravinsky’s music as in Roebling’s blue-prints for the Brooklyn Bridge-that edifice (considered “miraculous” when it was new) which Hart Crane took as a symbol of the unity of Art and Science.
Our dichotomized and dualistic thinking has been denounced so often lately that I hardly need to labor this point. I would prefer to suggest a possible common origin of both art and science. The musician and the architect, the poet and the physicist, all inventors of new realities-I propose, all such Creators may be best considered late evolutionary developments of the type that first appears as the shaman. Please remember that shamans in most cultures are known as “they who walk in the sky,” just like our current shaman-hero, Luke Skywalker
It should not be regarded as accidental or arbitrary that Swift put Laputa, the home of the scientists, in the sky, in order to disparage the wild-eyed and Utopian scientists of his time for not having all four feet on the ground; Aristophanes put Socrates in the clouds, to similarly disparage speculative agnostic philosophy. Outer Space seems the natural home of all descendents of the shaman, whether they be called artists, philosophers or scientists.
The ironies of Swift and Aristophanes, and the myths of the fall of Icarus and Donald Duck, indicate that the collective unconscious contains a force opposed to our dreams of flight. This appears inevitable. As Jung, the foremost explorer of the collective psyche, often pointed out, an ineluctable polarity exists in the symbols of dream and myth, a “Law of Opposites” which Jung compared to the Chinese concept ofyin and yang energies. Jekyll contains Hyde; love easily becomes hate; Cupid and Psyche reappear as the Phantom of the Opera and Margaritta, and also as King Kong and Fay Wray.
In the present context, the Law of Opposites means that we yearn to soar, yet we fear to fall. Our “inner selves” are mirrored not just in Orville Wright rising like a bird from Kill Devils Hill at Kitty Hawk, but also in Simon Newcombe, the great astronomer who “proved” mathematically that such flight was impossible.
As I have elsewhere suggested, neophilia and neophobia – love of the novelty and fear of novelty – result from the primal polarities of the first imprint of the newborn infant. In other words, what Dr. Timothy Leary calls the bio-survival “circuit” of the nervous system-the oral bio-survival system, I prefer to call it, since it includes the immune, endocrine and neuropeptide sub-systems as well as the autonomic nervous system-imprints either basic explorativeness or basic conservatism very quickly. That explains, I think, why some babies “chortle with delight” when tossed up in the air and caught, while others scream with terror. Infants who like this experience of flight, I suggest, already have the neophiliac imprint and those who act terrified have the neophobe imprint.
Of course, “the universe” can count above two (even if Aristotelian logicians cannot) and few of us are either pure neophilics or pure neophobics. Rather, we wobble about on a gradient between neophilia and neophobia-between joy and anxiety, between conservatism and experimentalism, between yearning to soar and fear of falling. A t times we feel like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, convinced that “a true Heaven has no limits” and trying to fly higher and faster; other times we become the old Reaganite gulls, nervously warning that to fly too high too fast will ruin your brain and directly contradicts the traditional mores of the flock (“Just say no to soaring.”) We contain both Orville Wright leaping into the air toward a future “where no man has gone before” and Simon Newcombe proving that Orville will certainly fall and smash himself like Humpty Dumpty.
As Joyce so poetically writes:
My great blue bedroom, the air so quiet, scarce a cloud. In peace and silence. I could have stayed up there for always only. It’s something fails us. First we feel. Then we fall-ill seen him come down on me now under whitespread wings like he’d come from Arkangels, I sink I’d die down under his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup.
Despite the multiple dream-images here-the Irish rain falling to become the Irish river Anna Liffey, Lucifer and his hosts falling from Heaven, the falls of Adam and Eve and Humpty Dumpty, Mary receiving the divine seed from the Archangel, Magdeline washing the feet of the Saviour, the Paraclete descending as a dove to bring the Apostles the Gift of Tongues, a housewife washing up the breakfast dishes-Joyce primarily invokes our deep awareness that gravity “pulls us down,” our deep yearning to break-free of this “drag” and soar back to our home above the clouds.
In 1988, the ancient Egyptian and Gnostic belief that our origin and our destiny reach far beyond Earth no longer seems as quaint and queer as it did in recent generations. In books like Dr. Timothy Leary’s Info-Psychology, Dr. Francis Crick’s Cosmic Panspermia and Sir Fred Hoyle‘s Evolution from Space, there appears a body of evidence strongly suggesting that life did not begin on this planet but arrived here from elsewhere in space. While the interpretations of these brilliant philosopher-scientists differ,’ their various kinds of evidence, from diverse fields of enquiry, does make a strong case that evolution is older and more universal than we traditionally think. One leaves their books suspecting that the orthodox biological view regarding Earthly evolution apart from Cosmic evolution results from unvoiced pre-Copernican assumptions about Earth’s centrality and its isolation.
In addition to the sophisticated and learned works of Leary, Crick and Hoyle, we have also recently witnessed the growth of a vast body of “vulgar” or at least popular literature arguing the proposition that Ancient Astronauts seeded this planet, not with all life, but merely with (post-Neanderthal) humanity. Instead of dissecting the flaws in the arguments of this seemingly “crank” literature, it might be more illuminating, I think, to wonder why this popular mythos provides the masses with an unsophisticated and anthropocentric form of the theories more soberly presented in works like Info-Psychology, Cosmic Panspermia,and Evolution from Space. Why do we find both first-rate and second-rate minds suddenly preoccupied with extraterrestrial evolution, while ninth-rate minds increasingly embrace Pop UFOlogy?
And why, one may next wonder, does this theme also appear centrally in the most beautiful, the most “haunting” and the most often-revived science-fiction film of all time-Kubrick’s magnificent 2001?
When one Idea or Archetype appears in learned tomes, in tabloids, in folk-belief, in new cults, and in great art, all at about the same time, one suspects the presence of what Jung called, in his book Flying Saucers, “a shift in the constellation of the archetypes.” In terms of current neuroscience, what Jung means, I think, is that the DNAICNS “dialogue”-the neuropeptide “language” between genes and brain-is preparing us for a new evolutionary leap.
In The Dream Illuminati, there is a scene in which the hero says bluntly:
I realized that 1 was only as free as I thought myself to be and that there was no limit to how high we can fly!
Here we see again that the Archetype of flight carries always an umbilical connection to the idea of the transcendence of all limits. (“What is believed to be true is true or becomes true…”)
And we must wonder again if more than childish fantasy lurks in the concept of Donald Duck walking on air only until he “remembers” that this “is” officially “impossible” in our current reality-tunnel.
In 1904, when Einstein was starting to write his first paper on Relativity and the Wright Brothers were testing the airplane design that finally worked after many failures, Aleister Crowley, the most controversial mystic of our century, “received”-or created by Poetic Imagination-a document which he ever after believed was a communication from Higher Intelligence. In this work, called Liber Al or The Book of the Law, there is contained what purports to be a message from Nuit, the Egyptian star goddess, interpeted in Crowley’s commentaries as the supreme consciousness of the cosmos, or the sum total of all synergetically interactive intelligences throughout space-time. Among other things this “entity” or corporation told Crowley;
Every man and every woman is a star…I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy…For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union…Put on the wings, and arouse the coiled splendor within you: come unto me!
Many interpretations of these verses are possible, of course. Of course.
Personally, after reading some of the current scientists who see evolution as both terrestrial and extraterrestrial, I cannot look at the words of Liber Al without thinking that, in some sense, the interstellar creators who planted life here may be sending us a signal to return to our home in the stars—that “great blue bedroom” which Joyce poetically invokes on the last page of Finnegans Wake and in which the astronaut, David Bowman, abruptly finds himself at the climax of 2001.
Of course, the language of poetic myth, like that of dream, should always be considered analogical and allegorical, not literal; to see only one meaning here means that one will “fall into the pit of Because and perish with the dogs of Reason” (to cite Crowley again). The content of a true archetype contains an infinity of mirrors.
For instance, my Dream Diary for 23 April 1968 records that when I woke in the morning I remembered the following images from my night’s hermetic journey:
I am in a Chicago nightclub once patronized by John Dillinger. I find that the present patrons are also a group of gangsters. They regard me with hostility, and I become frightened. I try to leave; they try to stop me. I open a door.
I find myself on the IRT subway in New York. I am riding in the front car and watching the tunnel ahead of the train (as I did as a boy). Suddenly, I see a brick wall ahead and realize the train is going to crash into it and kill everybody aboard, including me.
I am out of the subway and walking in Cicero, Illinois. An angry mob surrounds me. They seem to know that I was in the recent Martin Luther King march against segregation here. I cannot escape them. Suddenly, I know intuitively what to do. I cry out, “Elohim!” and sprout wings and fly above their heads. The sky is beautiful and I feel free of all anxieties, at peace, unreasonably hopeful about everything.
When I awoke, I was thinking of Chesterton’s description of the mystic experience as “absurd good news.”
At the time of this dream, I was involved with Chicago friends in propagating the John Dillinger Died For You Society, a parody of Fundamentalist religions which, like all good jokes, had its serious side. I was fascinated by the way that certain outlaws like Dillinger (or Jesse James, or Robin Hood) were virtually forced to live to the full the archetypal myth of Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Christ and Joyce’s Tim Finnegan. I also meditated much on the way in which outlaws who did not even approximately “live” the myth subsequently had their lives rewritten in folk-imagination to conform to it. The first part of the dream-record con-fronts me with the dark side of the archetype, and reminds me that real gangsters are not the mythic figures imposed on them by Poetic Imagination but nasty and frightening sociopaths.
In the second part of the dream, I enter into the Underground Initiation. Although using symbols from my own life (the subway), I find myself retracing the steps of Ishtar in the land of the dead, Odysseus sailing to Hades for wisdom, Jesus and Dante descending to Hell, etc. In alchemy this was called negrito, which Jung compares to the initial stages of psychotherapy.
In a sense, the Underworld Journey appears the reciprocal of, and preparation for, the Achievement of Flight. Dante had to walk through Hell before climbing Mount Purgatory and soaring above the clouds to Heaven. In retrospect, I am especially de-lighted with the Freudian wit of the unconscious in using modem “Underworld” figures-gangsters-to represent the mythic Underworld.
In the third part of the dream, the traditional Wrathful Demons attack me, personified by the citizens of Al Capone’s home town, Cicero-perhaps because the people out there always reminded me of Wrathful Demons whenever I had to associate with them. I escape by crying out a name from the Hebrew Bible, whereupon I am able to fly, like Dante or Daedalus, from the Pit to the Stars.
What I find most curious about these dream fragments is that, when I experienced them in 1968, I knew nothing about Cabala. I was puzzled on awakening about the name Elohim and the way I had magically used it in the dream. All I knew about that name in those days was that it appears in the first chapter of Genesis and that there is a dispute between philologists and theologians about whether it means “God“ or “the gods”- i.e. whether the first chapter of the Bible is or isn’t a fragment left over from a polytheistic phase of Judaism.
It was over two years after this very Jungian dream that I became interested in Cabala and eventually learned that Elohim is therein considered a great Name of Power – used in e.g. the Middle Pillar Ritual, which every Cabalist in training is expected to do at least once a week. The function of Cabalistic ritual in general, and this ritual in particular, was once defined by Crowley as “to raise the mind of the student perpendicularly to Infinity” – beyond all limits. This is symbolized in my dream, as in many dreams and myths, by the imagery of flight and the conquest of gravity. The 1968 dream seems to contain precognition of Cabalistic work I would be doing very seriously c. 1971-75.
Of course, if one dares to suggest that a dream contains precognition; the Rationalist immediately declares the connection between the dream image and later waking events “is” “mere coincidence.” Those with a psychological block against recognizing electricity would probably say, similarly, that when you flick the switch and the light goes on that “is” also “mere coincidence.”
At the time I had this dream or set of dreams in 1968, I was suffering from a moderately severe depression and the general symptoms of what is now called “mid-life crisis.” I had a very good job at Playboy magazine, with an excellent salary for the ’60s, but I was approaching 40 and wanted to write full-time. (Three years later, after beginning Cabalistic work, I quit my job and have been writing full-time ever since. Al-though I have experienced the usual share of shocks, disappointments and bereavements, I have not suffered clinical depression again.)
The reader might find it illuminating to compare this record with a dream recounted in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In this case, the dreamer saw a winged horse with one wing broken, struggling lofty and falling continually back to Earth. Campbell does not even bother interpreting this symbolism, merely informing us that the dreamer was a poet forced to work at a menial job to support his family; one understands immediately.
In a sense, we have all had our “wings” broken; it remains the major function of such “hallowed institutions“ as organized religion and Free Compulsory Education to see that our “wings” are broken, or at least clipped, before we reach adulthood. How else will society have the insectoid units it needs to fill the cubicles in its hive economy?
But what if we begin to regrow healthy organs of Poetic Imagination and flight? What if we “put on the wings and arouse the coiled splendor within“ as Liber Al urges? Is it not predictable that society will react with the fury described by Wayne Saalman in The Dream Illuminati? (Think of the careers of Dr. Wilhelm Reich and Dr. Timothy Leary…) Joyce did not name his emblematic Artist merely Daedalus but Stephen Daedal s. -after St. Stephen, the Protomartyr who reported a Vision and was stoned to death for it.
And does it not appear ultimately beneficial, in evolutionary perspective, that society should react in that manner? Those of us who have no avocation for martyrdom must learn, when we realize how much neophobia remains built into the contraptions of “society” and “the State,“ the art of surviving in spite of them. In a word, we must “get wise“ in both the Socratic meaning of that phrase and in the most hardboiled street meaning. Neophobia functions as an Evolutionary Driver, forcing the neophiliac to get very smart very fast.
This theme is inexhaustible, but my space and time are not. As a final bit of hermetic wisdom, I offer you Proposition 12 of Aleister Crowley’s masterwork, Magick:
Man is ignorant of the nature of his own being and powers. Even his idea of his limitation is based on experience of–the past, and every step in his progress extends his empire. There is therefore no reason to assign theoretical limits to what he may be, or to what he may do.
‘Leary thinks life was planted here by advanced intelligences lovingly seeking “children” for companionship, while Crick proposes that advanced civilization coldly and scientifically created Earthside DNA as an interesting experiment, and Hoyle argues that some seeds got here by accident (on comets, etc.) and some was deposited by Higher Intelligences for reasons inscrutable to us at present. I suspect that all three theories are influenced by the personal traits of their inventors.
[submitted to RAWilsonFans.com by RMJon23]