The following is an excerpt from my new book, The Secret Teachers of the Western World. In it I look at the history of the western esoteric or ‘inner’ tradition through the lens of the work of two important thinkers, the German-Swiss philosopher Jean Gebser, and the contemporary neuroscientist and English scholar Iain McGilchrist. My central idea is that the western esoteric tradition has been a victim of what we might call a “consciousness war,” which has been taking place over the last several centuries.
In The Ever-Present Origin, Gebser argues that the western mind has moved through different “structures of consciousness,” and is at present undergoing the breakdown of what he calls the “mental-rational consciousness structure,” in preparation for the emergence of the new, “integral” structure of consciousness. As should be gathered from the excerpt, this is no picnic and the transition is fraught with danger. In The Master and His Emissary, McGilchrist re-boots the “split-brain” discussion and argues that throughout our history, our cerebral hemispheres have been involved in an at times friendly but more often very serious rivalry. McGilchrist believes that since the Industrial Revolution, the left brain – associated with logic and analysis – has gained the upper hand, with its neighbor, the right brain, partial to intuition and synthesis, increasingly losing ground. The result is the fractured, fragmented, disintegrating postmodern world we are all too familiar with.