“So then, after I finished up with my theta-wave biorhythmic feedback loops I tried a kale smoothie, just to chill out—and then I went down for a Tantric full-body massage, the masseur asked if I would like to have sex with him, but I said, no, I’m not in the mood right now. It was totally chill. Then we went to a lecture in the main room about how hallucinogenic mushrooms originated all religious experience—tomorrow we’re having an encounter session and then we’ll do some rolfing. For now, we just dropped some LSD and we’re sitting—naked, of course, it’s totally cool to be naked here—in the thermal springs, just watching the waves lap on the shore below. It’s totally cool. It’s totally Big Sur. It’s totally Esalen. You should come down here and explore your human potential.”
You know the sort—a sort rather like Joe Rogan, in fact. The “stoned ape” personified. I call it “California Zen”, really it is the Esalen experience—that mixture of Zen, Tantra, and the latest neuroscience and quantum physics. The idea that the human contains hidden “potentials” that could just be released if only we would stop being so uptight and repressed and, like the girls at Esalen, just flash our tits at each other at random—perhaps even invite someone to cop a feel.
Actually, the Esalen experience has a formal name, not just my “California Zen”—it is called “the religion of no religion.” Even better than “California Zen”, for, as we shall see, though Esalen uses the language of Eastern mysticism it is anything but real mysticism. What is Esalen? The picture above gives you a clear impression: it is a set of thermal baths in Big Sur, California. It is built on the treacherous cliffs and under the unstable cliff tops in this region of stark beauty—Robinson Jeffers country, the man who saw the Pacific as a great eyeball stretched between the continents that impassively watches us. As with everything in California, Esalen is precarious. You know the drill with California: earthquakes, fires, droughts, fires—living on the edge, the Pacific rim; everything is “rad” and pushed “to the max” (cue surfer with tousled blond hair, Roy Orbison shades, and white sand all over his Bermuda shorts). “Gnarly.” Disaster always threatens in California, it goes with the hedonism—and, indeed, the jerrybuilt cinder block Esalen centre was crushed under a rockfall, precipitated by El Niño (remember that “climate emergency”?), in the late 1990s.
Let me tell you what Esalen is straight up: Hell. When Abraham Maslow visited the centre, being one of the many many Jewish psychologists associated with it, he remarked that Esalen’s most salient feature was that it is hot—very hot. To be clear: you sit in these hot thermal springs after a day where you discuss how no religions are true and we should all worship the “religion of no religion” and have sex with each other and get high. You boil yourself in the pits. Jack Kerouac, when he briefly visited, left very depressed: he saw a dead otter washed about far below Esalen’s cliffside perch—and he was disgusted at the semen that floated in the thermal baths (Esalen got its start as a cruising site for men from LA and SF, it just taught the straights to cruise too).
Oh, by the way, did I mention that Esalen is built on an Indian burial ground? Periodically, the graves are disinterred. Indeed, the centre owes its name to the “Esselen” tribe—now long since extinguished. Now, perhaps I’ve watched too many Hollywood movies, but when you build on an Indian burial site it is usually taken to be a bad sign—and how strange this should be so when your mission is to destroy all the world’s religions; it’s almost like Esalen is a sinister influence on world affairs…
Esalen was founded on two streams: Jewish intellectuals and English perverts—in a way, you could almost say that is the history of the contemporary West post-1945. The primary motivational force was a Stanford professor of comparative religion, Frederic Spiegelberg, who was kicked from Hitler’s Germany—it was he who coined the phrase “the religion of no religion”, the quintessence of Esalen’s project. Spiegelberg was sometimes retailed as a “German aristocrat”, though I see no evidence this was so. His vision can be summed up in the following paragraph:
“…he suddenly approached a corner of a road—a church. And the sight of the church gives him a shock. For what on earth is a church doing in this glorified world? What can be behind those stone walls, what means this coloured light behind these windows, and what these strange sounds of music that reach his ears? All the world around has been holy, has been God’s eternal nature, has been His face and His expression. Therefore—and this is what shocks him—if there really is anything else, anything peculiar behind those walls, it could not possibly be a matter outside God, in contrast with, or even in in opposition with the eternal bliss of the all-penetrating holiness.”
Do not be fooled by Spiegelberg’s constant references to “God”. Not only did he hold that the Christian Church was finished, he also opposed Islam and its traditional pilgrimages—and Buddhism and Hinduism too. Spiegelberg was a total atheist motivated by a hated of God and metaphysical reality: hence his “religion of no religion”—a doctrine that cleverly mixed the apparently nihilistic atheistic stance of Zen Buddhism with science in order to destroy the world’s religions. In private congress with his cronies—with many of the initiators of Esalen—in his apartment in the 1980s, Spiegelberg openly spoke of “our blasphemy” and “unworship”.
So Spiegelberg was Esalen’s godfather and set the Satanic tenor for the whole enterprise; he was not directly involved, but its founders looked to him as their intellectual lodestar—Esalen is best described as “the religion of no religion”. The other intellectual influence was Aldous Huxley, then resident in California—and an early psychonaut, an experimenter with LSD. In circulation around Huxley were English homosexual-leftists such as Christopher Isherwood (Herr Ishywoo in Cabaret, as inspired by his Berlin novels). The Huxley connection provides the Darwinistic materialistic aspect to Esalen: Huxley mixed Darwinism and Hinduism, particularly in his late utopian novel Island.
Although Huxley looks religious sometimes, he was really an atheist who thought that the materialistic life processes found in Darwinism—his family had a long association with Darwinism, his grandfather being “Darwin’s bulldog”—could be mixed with quasi-Hindu ideas and psychedelic drugs to give a materialist understanding of life a religious edge, to poeticise science. The project is Nietzschean in a way: science as an aesthetic experience—evolution “creatively guided” and latent “human potential” exploited through the use of drug-religion. Indeed, Huxley helped to coin the term “human potential”—the idea, seen in Esalen pamphlets, that a string of Bertrand Russell’s calculus symbols should be combined with a lotus flower.
You get the picture and you have heard the story one way or another over your life: science is “the truth”, we are just materialist entities—however, at the quantum level, there is a dance of polarities and this is the cosmic song into which we must all attune through bionic beats, DMT, or LSD. Usually, there is a strong feminist angle, with a notion that we need to worship the “hidden wisdom” of women—and, indeed, the Esalen crew were delighted when their clap doctor’s nurse provided them with speculums with which they could prise open a few cunts so as to better appreciate the yoni in all its glory, to watch the menstrual blood ooze out before their eyes. Hallelujah!
The religious language is not misplaced, for what this “religion of no religion” really amounts to is what Guénon would term “the counter-initiation”—it deliberately inverts what should be high and makes it low. Indeed, there is a Freudian inflexion to Esalen, so that “God” is identified with the id—Esalen literally identifies the divine with everything that is forbidden, repressed, and dirty. For them, the mystical experience is to commune with the id—with filth. In other words, Esalen denies all the religions of the world and then consciously inverts them—first by reduction to material science, then by identification of the mystical experience as being located in the filthy id. Incidentally, it should be noted that Esalen, until it was cleaned up in the early 1990s, was plagued by suicides and severe depression among its founders—no surprise, if you literally worship dirt and filth.
Esalen was founded by Michael Murphy and Dick Price—the former an Irishman with an affection for golf, the latter an ultra-rich Jew (family name originally “Preis”) who went completely mad for a period. The hot spring baths had existed before and had become, as noted, a cruising spot—it was already a place characterised by sexual licence, so that it drew local Big Sur resident and sexual libertine Henry Miller for a while. Hunter S. Thompson also spent a period as a watchman there, although he quarrelled with the queers and was eventually beaten up by them—an adventure he related in an early magazine article, the article being enough to get him fired. The queers were finally routed by the Eslanites with help from several Doberman pinschers, Thompson’s favourite hound—although he had left by then.
Murphy aligned himself to the Indian guru Sri Aurobindo, whose mysticism had already sought to reconcile religion and science—in other words, Aurobindo had already started the anti-metaphysical Huxleyite project whereby religion is subordinated to science and, consequently, in accordance with science, all metaphysical elements are extirpated. Aurobindo was put under surveillance by British internal security in India because he was an activist for independence—in other words, he was a communist with a small “c”.
In the early 1900s, the British left flooded India and became enamoured with syncretic religious cultism—particularly Theosophy through the Fabian inheritor to Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant. British social democrats, especially the Fabians, basically misused and misinterpreted Eastern mysticism to promote a “one world” religion and also manipulated old Hindu metaphysical ideas that superficially seem close to modern science (the now cliched “woo” talk of “energies” and “fields”) to create a materialistic, feminist, and socialistic pseudo-religion. Although not directly related to this project, except through figures like Huxley, Esalen worked in this spirit—as did Aurobindo.
Murphy was a meliorative influence who held back Esalen’s excesses, mainly because his serious commitment to Aurobindo gave him some residual connection to a genuine, albeit distorted, religious tradition—he went on to write a popular Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance type book called Golf in the Kingdom that utilised a brief stopover at St. Andrews (also partly built on a graveyard incidentally, a fact that Murphy synchronistically predicted in his novel) on the way to an ashram in India.
There were basically two factions at Esalen, though not necessarily opposed: the Irish—represented by Michael Murphy, Timothy Leary, and Terence McKenna—and the Jews, represented by Abraham Maslow, Fritz Perles, and Dick Price (and, frankly, too many others to mention—gestalt therapy, pioneered at Esalen, was described as a “Jewish Zen”). The Irish-descended Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, who was such an inspiration for George Lucas and his Star Wars that he was dubbed “my yoda” by Lucas also appeared at Esalen.
Campbell was quite against the Jews, but in the spirit of a hatred for the Abrahamic all-powerful God, not so much on a racial basis. Although many think him a spiritual man, he never undertook any mystical discipline and just read; he seems to have been effectively an atheist materialist who understood the value of folktales and sought to create a single world monomyth for the age of Apollo, the age of a universal technological society. This desire, for a global myth, itself represents, in a Traditionalist analysis, a degradation in the kali-yuga—a levelling.
The final “Irish link” came in the late 1980s, when Steven Donovan, a cofounder of Starbucks, became involved in the gentrification of Esalen—a process that saw it move from seedy countercultural hangout to a more corporatised environment, replete with PhDs (essentially marking Esalen’s decadent phase, its high point being the instrumental role people from the Esalen axis played in granting “alternative medicine” Federal protection).
The Irishmen were, once their histories were traced, all descended from people from a particular county in Ireland—so that the blood had automatically sought out its children in the New World, blood will always out; and who knows what sinister practices that county in the Old Country was steeped in—and why Esalen’s Irish grandfathers were expelled to the New World.
Among the Irishmen was Alan Watts, a man who was thoroughly culturally English and who had been ordained in the Anglican Church before he converted to Zen Buddhism. His Zen sermons, originally broadcast on the ultra-progressive Pacifica KPFA station, remain a huge hit on YouTube. Watts had a big impact on me, and yet it eventually dawned on me, about a year ago, that it was strange that Watts was allowed on YouTube—nothing true is allowed to survive on YouTube, yet Watts endured.
It finally struck me that although Watts almost gives an exposition of Zen—and does so very persuasively—he is actually a materialist. His message, per the religion of no religion, is that we are nature knowing itself—and he uses scientific analogies to explain this is so. The contention we are nature knowing itself is not itself wrong—so long as it contains a metaphysical element. However, I finally realised that Watts, though his exposition and distortion of Zen is very subtle, was an atheist and a materialist.
This explains why he died of alcoholism and why he was a terrible womaniser; he pretended that his alcoholism and womanising were a variation on “the old rascal drunk Zen master” but this was not so—and how do I know that? The roguish Zen master gives a genuine laugh of release at the world, a world he has fully accepted in both its good and bad aspects as viewed from eternity—as Wittgenstein observed, the religious position is characterised by the view that whatever happens to you, good or ill, you are fundamentally safe. Hence the roguish Zen master laughs—except, so I noticed with Watts, his laugh was false; it was not an authentic laugh, for he was not Enlightened—there was no metaphysical aspect to his Zen, hence it was not true Zen.
Esalen also helped to birth another movement that confused me for a while. The cybernetician Gregory Bateson was associated with Esalen; and he was married to the ultra-progressive Margaret Mead, the anthropologist who was famed for her—dishonestly presented and shoddy—research on teen sexuality in the South Seas. It was Mead who popularised the idea that teens need to “experiment” with sexual partners, and that this is “perfectly normal”—per Polynesia. Basically, cybernetics looks a lot like mysticism, particularly Eastern mysticism and Zen, with its circular feedback loop; and, indeed, if you look at some of the mathematics behind it, particularly the pseudonymous French group “Nicolas Bourbaki”, it has an occult aspect to it and replicates many symbols used in alchemy.
The problem with cyber-mysticism, as presented at Esalen, is that it is also non-metaphysical; as with “the religion of no religion” itself, it also inverts traditional religious practices and brings everything down to the mundane and material. As with everything at Esalen, the old alchemical slogan “as above, so below” is interpreted not so much as “Buddha on the lotus lily with a stalk in the mud” as “let’s dredge every perversity, particularly sexual, up to the surface and call it God”. Hence Esalen extensively misused Tantra—itself a marginal practice in contemporary Hinduism, looked upon slightly askance—as an excuse to indulge in absolute sexual licence; it became Esalen’s crooked central plank . “Get high on LSD, have sex, see God” was the Esalen approach—and throw in a float tank for good measure.
Actual Tantra, while it does use sex a religious rite, engages in “left-hand path” activities with trepidation—for example, the Tantric subject is meant to be completely detached from the sensual pleasure of the sex act, whereas Esalen claimed “the orgasm is God”; it made everything mucky again—yet again, the inspiration for this came from Wilhelm Reich, another Jewish intellectual, who reduced the spiritual fluid in which we exist to a material “orgasmic” power that could be scientifically controlled and measured. Reich claimed that “fascism” was caused by sexual repression—if everyone could just stop being so “uptight” and “get it on” all would be well. Esalen: there is no God, there is no church—there is a fuck, to fuck is your God (life will be a permanent orgasm—excuse me while I kill myself from despair).
I think that many tendencies described as “postmodernism” in fact originate in Esalen. It is Esalen that uses cyber-mysticism to say that there is no such thing as good or evil, just a process whereby it is “healthy” to dredge up repressed material (to worship to the id). It is Esalen that says “it’s all relative”, scientifically speaking it’s all on a spectrum—yet science has granted us (how many times have you heard this from McKenna and Rogan et al) liberation in the form of LSD or a mushroom; and, in particular, per its Freudian inflection, that sexual discovery, “non-binary” gender identities, the collapse of racial boundaries, and the worship of women all constitute a new stage in human evolution. I see Esalen all over contemporary “woke” politics, like crotch rot on a Woodstock survivor.
Indeed, an LSD partisan was heard to describe the day of the drug’s Easter discovery as Better Friday—for LSD heads the drug was always a replacement for Good Friday. This is ironic, since Albert Hofmann, the Swiss who discovered LSD, always called it “my problem child” and explored it in a small circle that included Ernst Jünger and the man who coined the term “conservative revolution”—the man who actually discovered LSD saw it as a means to explore traditional religion, not to destroy all extant religions and worship LSD-mediated orgasms as God (per Leary and the unsavoury Irish crew).
I cannot overemphasise how much Esalen aimed to destroy anything higher—and what is particularly infuriating is that they have taken Eastern and esoteric ideas and introduced them to the general public in a perverted form, so that you would think the Hindus are practical atheists and good progressives; everything at Esalen was reduced to vulgar materialism, as Marx might have said—alchemy, for example, became a primitive chemistry aimed immortality of a peculiar sort. Now Esalen is, as I noted, basically over: it burnt itself out by the early 1990s, nothing new will come from Esalen now—it is a dull corporate retreat, sanitised. Its last success, after a hook-up with Soviet parapsychologists through 1980s “citizen diplomacy”, was to bring Boris Yeltsin to America—Yeltsin was the Esalen ideal, a greedy piggy alcoholic easily manipulated by Judeo-Masonry to wreck his country.
In a sense, Esalen won: the Esalen worldview is a standard worldview from the Joe Rogan show to the ghostly McKenna and Watts lectures that circulate on YouTube. What were once the powers of saints, the Siddhis, have been reduced to some latent “human potential” created by evolution that, per Colin Wilson, a man who was also unfortunately seduced by Esalen because of his rather squalid relationship to sex, will be unleashed by drugs and/or sexual experience as mediated by technology.
Esalen in its prime was Satanic instrument, a portal that leaked darkness into the world—accelerated our decline into the kali-yuga. Today, many people practice “the religion of no religion”—created by a man, Spiegelman, who hated God and all religion—almost without realising it. Indeed, Esalen even managed, through a Jesuit connection to the centre, to influence Vatican II (an event that can only be read as the destruction of Catholicism). The wickedness in Esalen is that through its most subtle exponents, such as Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell, it cons people into thinking they have found a religious path when really they worship materialism and filth—the “id god”.
Esalen did unleash genuine “powers” and connections, of a dark sort—all that spinal manipulation does get the kundalini moving. Hence Murphy and Price both experienced extreme negative feelings on the night Watts died. Price himself, after he wandered up to check on the source of the hot springs, was hit by a boulder and died—just as boulders would wreck the centre over a decade later. One founder was killed at the source—now that’s synchronicity. As with many Esalenites, Price had suffered a severe mental breakdown: mystic and esoteric paths, per Evola, say people who are mentally unstable cannot follow this route—Esalen encouraged people to indulge in pseudo-mysticism as a cure; and when you break the rules that way, you get boulders.
What do the goblins of Esalen fear? The Chilean psychoanalyst, Claudio Naranjo, yet another Jew in the Esalen axis, once went out to spend time with Óscar Icahzo, a Bolivian esotericist. Ichazo suspected that Naranjo wanted to dominate others—as with Freud, as with Perles (a vicious bully). He sent him into the desert for forty days—to find Jesus perhaps, always a good idea for Jews. When he returned, Naranjo claimed to be spiritually transformed but he left when Icahzo initiated spiritual exercises that involved the saluto romano—indeed, perhaps Ichazo influenced that other notorious Latin American esotericist, Miguel Serrano. What do the goblins of Esalen fear? The roman salute—the Tantra of the sun.