The Knock of the Spirit
On occasion I will be posting short pieces mid-stream, as it were, while I work my way through Northrop Frye’s Fearful Symmetry, his engaging study of William Blake. Now and then, something Frye mentions about Blake’s life, and his visionary art and poetry, reminds of parallels from other sources, which become mutually illuminating and clarifying. This is one such….
In the first chapter of Frye’s work entitled “The Case Against Locke”, Frye comments on Blake’s “spiritual utilitarianism” or visionary pragmatism in words that called to mind something Carlos Castaneda commented on regarding his teacher don Juan’s approach to the world — an approach that eschewed any regard or reference to “God” or to something called “the spiritual”, but insisted instead on what he called “the energetic facts”. Here’s Northrop Frye commenting, similarly, on Blake’s approach,
“To Blake, the spiritual world was a continuous source of energy: he harnessed spiritual power as an engineer harnesses water power and used it to drive his inspiration: he was a spiritual utilitarian. He had the complete pragmatism of the artist, who, as artist, believes nothing but is looking only for what he can use.” (p. 8)
Don Juan always insisted on what Castaneda referred to as “the energetic facts” rather than any concern with something called “the spiritual”. His irreligion and pragmatism have been noted by others, in that respect. As with Frye’s remarks on Blake’s attitude of “spiritual utilitarianism”, it’s pretty clear that what some people call “the spiritual” is identical with “the energetic facts”.
That which is experienced as “a continuous source of energy” is not only what Jean Gebser called “the ever-present origin” (in his book by that title), but is also called “the spiritual” only because it is experienced as an influx from outside the physical system of spacetime into the physical system. The conduit for that influx is what is called “faith”, and it has nothing to do with doctrine, belief, or ideology. It is also exactly what Gebser intended to be understood by his term “irruption” in describing the emergence of a new consciousness structure, and even as being something “apocalyptic” or “revelatory”.
Addendum: By the way, I did find a record online of Castaneda’s explanation of the meaning of “energetic facts” as he interpreted it from don Juan’s teachings. It comes from the 30th Anniversary preface to his first book The Teachings of Don Juan. It can be read here.