Rebels and Devils: The Psychology of Liberation – Christopher Hyatt et al (8/10)

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Christopher Hyatt was an occultist, a doctor of psychology and founder of the Extreme Individuals Institute. He was also president of New Falcon Publications, which under his watch became well known for publishing envelope-pushing and often controversial personal development material. Rebels and Devils is a collection of essays, poems, interviews and short stories from some of the best mind explorers he knew.

Some of the writers here are well known in the field, such as Aleister Crowley, Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, and William Burroughs. Others are less well known, but have equally illuminating viewpoints to share. Different styles and backgrounds come together in a thorough analysis of the individual going against the grain of society, how their perception of reality differs from the layman, and more specifically the transformation of mindset that anyone pursuing occult practices needs to undergo.

It is written from a left hand path perspective, in the sense that all of the contributions are centred around each individual being his own god who can take control of his own spiritual development, and around removing the labels of good and evil. ‘What we do and how we feel is a function of believing in fictitious limitations which have no basis except in habits.’ Having read a fair few mediocre writings on the left hand path of late, this is a refreshing and dogma-free approach to the subject – as many claim to be, but few really are when you get beneath the surface.

There is an excellent overview of Aleister Crowley’s belief system and what his Thelemic order stands for across two essays – one by an OTO initiate and one by Jack Parsons. There is a revealing and amusing interview transcript with Israel Regardie and Christopher Hyatt. And a whole section is dedicated to chaos magick, exploring the philosophical basis of magick in the modern world, including some basic techniques offered by the best authors on the subject: Austin Osman Spare, Phil Hine and Peter Carroll.

The variety is such that it feels like a toolkit for opening the mind. The reader is pulled this way and that, challenged at every step, so that I think it would be nearly impossible for anyone to come away without some kind of new perspective and personal drive. I was already familiar with several of the writers included in this volume, but have now discovered more to look further into. Particularly memorable for me was an Indian mystic guru known as Osho who said:

This earth is ours, and what kind of freedom is there if we cannot even move? Everywhere there are big barriers, every nation is a big imprisonment. Just because you cannot see the boundaries you think you are free. Just try to pass through the boundary and immediately you will be faced with a loaded gun: ‘go back inside to prison. You belong to this prison. You cannot enter into another prison without permission.’ These are your nations!’

Although it may appear to be written by conspiracy theorists at times, especially when Robert Anton Wilson talks about ‘the war on (some) drugs’, the focus is very much on self development and not anarchy. Another Osho quote illustrates this:

Each individual passing through a rebellion is not fighting with anybody else, but is fighting only with his own darkness.’

I haven’t given full marks for this book mainly because it is a ‘taster’ designed to give an appetite for the full offerings rather than fully explaining any concept from start to finish. But also because some of the contributions felt like fillers, some were repetitive and some were poorly written so didn’t express their points well. I began to feel this way more towards the end of the book – even Genesis P Orridge had a long section that wasn’t particularly coherent and wasn’t a good representation of hir ideas.

On the whole though, ‘Rebels and Devils’ comes highly recommended for anyone wanting to broaden their perspective from the mundane, and for those who need a shake up of values every now and then. Finally, a short quote from Christopher Hyatt to sum up the attitude of the book:

Stop looking for facts, believe what you like, and have fun!

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