Who Started SynchroMysticism? James Shelby Downard

Who really kick started SynchroMysticism? The question is easily enough posed. Answering it is another matter.

We have already showcased the renowned Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. He is arguably the fountainhead of the concept of synchronicity. It is by no means clear that Jung did not himself have “mystical” inclinations.

Still, if Jung is justly thought of as the “godfather” of the rigorous investigation of coincidence (as he arguably is), then James Shelby Downard is perhaps, and equally fairly, considered to be the godfather of SynchroMysticism. Indeed, the ubiquitous Loren Coleman treats Shelby Downard in precisely this way.

Coleman refers to Mr. Downard as “an American theorist and pamphleteer who shared his thoughts about conspiracies, coincidences, synchronicity, and symbolism,” and points readers to a gripping booklet written by the self-proclaimed “crackpot historian” and “Discordian” enthusiast, Adam Gorightly.

Gorightly, who is the author of such works as Historia Discordia: The Origins of the Discordian Society (New York: RVP Press, 2014), The Prankster and the Conspiracy: The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture (New York: Paraview Press, 2003), and The Shadow Over Santa Susana: Black Magic, Mind Control And The Manson Family Mythos (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2001), tackles our little-known SynchroMystic trailblazer in James Shelby Downard’s Mystical War (College Station, TX: Virtual Book Worm 2008).

James Shelby Downard’s Mystical War is an excellent introduction to the titular hero. Gorightly provides an accessible sketch of some of the noteworthy events in the life of Mr. Downard. At least it’s a bit more tractable than Downard’s own, sometimes rambling but always enthralling, autobiography, The Carnivals of Life and Death: My Profane Youth: 1913-1935 (Los Angeles: Feral House, 2006).

Perhaps more importantly for present purposes, an understandable primer into some of Downard’s less comprehensible ideas such as “mystical toponomy.”

“Toponomy,” of course, is the study of place names.  “Mysticism,” generally speaking, is the practice of seeking “union” with the Divine – as well as beliefs attending and supporting that practice. However, in Downard’s idiom, the word “mystical” seems to have the sense of “esoteric.” The idea is that certain place names appear to have recondite significance and turn up in peculiar connections, to say the least.

Gorightly provides the illustration of the “Mason Road,” in Texas. This road ties together with a sweeping hypothesis concerning the assassination of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. In Downard’s proposal, the murder of JFK, whatever else it may have been, was a grand enactment of a ritual designated by the 19th-20th-century Scottish anthropologist Sir James Frazer in his The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (London: Macmillan and Co.,  1890). And, to Shelby Downard, the alchemically permeated brotherhood of Freemasonry was heavily implicated.

A short post of this sort cannot possible do justice to the depth or originality of such a theorist as James Shelby Downard. Readers eager for even more are highly encouraged to dive into the various offerings of “Downardiana,” including – once they feel up tot he task – Downard’s own musings.

To get you started, we note that besides Gorightly’s tract, Dr. Richard Spence has also penned an outstanding article on Downard, now available in Paranoia Magazine (Issue #52).

In an upcoming installment, we will spotlight Michael A. Hoffman II, Shelby’s protégé in matters Fortean and SynchroMystic. Please, check back for that update (among others).

Postscript: We have previously mentioned Christopher Knowles’s sensible observation that it is tricky business trying to single out a single pioneering soul and labeling him or her “the” founder of a phenomenon as multifaceted as SynchroMysticism. We acknowledge this. (For more detail, see here.) Still, Shelby Downard was significant (or perhaps incomparable) in many ways. Highlighting him for special approbation is, in our opinion, and in the opinion of others mentioned above, entirely appropriate.

SynchroMysticism in Books: Peter Levenda

As mentioned in the previous post, Peter Levenda is a person readers are likely to encounter as the probe the sometimes murky recesses of esotericism, occultism, and, yes, SynchroMysticism.

Levenda, similarly to Christopher Knowles, seems a bit more left-leaning than some of the individuals that we will look at in upcoming posts.  Professionally, he is an author and offbeat historian of sorts. An early focus was on the obscure intersection of Nazism and, well, magic.

In this genre, Levenda has three impressive offerings. The primary book of interest to those who study historic “Hitlerism” is his 1995 book, Unholy Alliance: A History of Nazi Involvement With the Occult (New York: Avon). Of more specialized appeal is his quirky, 2012 speculations that Hitler escaped Germany at the conclusion of World War Two. (See Ratline: Soviet spies, Nazi Priests, and the Disappearance of Adolf Hitler, Lake Worth, FL: Ibis Press.) More recently, in his The Hitler Legacy: The Nazi Cult in Diaspora, How it was Organized, How it was Funded, and Why it remains a Threat to Global Security in the Age of Terrorism (Lake Worth, FL: Ibis Press, 2014), he has applied his historical views to more contemporary problems.

In this way, Levenda’s subject matter overlaps with the more mainstream academic publications of the later British Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. In such texts as The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany, 1890–1935 (Wellingborough, U.K.: Aquarian Press, 1985), Hitler’s Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism (New York: NYU P, 1998), and Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity (New York: NYU P, 2001), Goodrick-Clarke also explored the cryptic conjunction of 20th-century German National Socialism and the dark arts.

As a survey of the titles suggests, both Goodrick-Clarke and Levenda deal at length with personalities like Rudolf Hess (who had a well-known affinity for astrology and esotericism) and Heinrich Himmler (who had charged the Ahnenerbe with the task of validating Aryan and Nordic mythology).

But they also get into less-familiar territory and explore such controversial topics as the Teutonically tinged occult philosophy of “Ariosophy,” begun by Lanz von Liebenfels and Guido von List. Ariosophy (literally, “Aryan wisdom”) was, like Rudolf Steiner’s “Anthroposophy,” an offshoot of Russian mystic Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society. Readers may recall that Blavatsky had transplanted herself to Great Britain and founded “theosophy” (the “wisdom of God”) along with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott. The society was continued by figures such as Alice Bailey and Annie Besant.

Meanwhile, the occultist R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, who also had links to the seemingly all-pervasive Theosophical Society, represents a connection between German and French occultism. Schwaller de Lubicz is one of the candidates for having penned the alchemical treatise The Mystery of the Cathedrals, attributed to one “Fulcanelli,” who the former claimed to have once met.

At any rate, Levenda has also produced several investigative tomes that may be of more general interest to those with a SynchroMystic turn of mind.

At the top of this list must surely be his Sinister Forces trilogy: The Nine: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft (with Jim Hougan, Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2005), A Warm Gun: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft (with Dick Russell, Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2005), and The Manson Secret: A Grimoire of American Political Witchcraft (Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2006). The books delve into “the roots of coincidence and conspiracy in American politics, crime, and culture,” and Levenda purports to disclose riveting ties “between religion, political conspiracy, and occultism.”

Levenda has also made forays into the arcane subject of alchemy that, readers will recall, was of seminal importance to synchronicity’s “founding father,” Swiss polymath and psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung. In such treatises as Stairway to Heaven: Chinese Alchemists, Jewish Kabbalists, and the Art of Spiritual Transformation (New York: Continuum, 2008), Tantric Temples: Eros and Magic in Java (Lake Worth, FL : Ibis Press, 2011), and The Tantric Alchemist: Thomas Vaughan and the Indian Tantric Tradition (Lake Worth, Florida : Ibis Press, 2015), he introduces readers to the related disciplines of alchemy and Tantrism, which have had such a profound influence on Western SynchroMysticism.

A versatile writer, Levenda has expanded his oeuvre with volumes on Freemasonry and on the 20th-century, American horror savant H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos has practically achieved cultic status in the years since his untimely death on the Ides of March, 1937.

On Freemasonry, which is itself arguably an outgrowth of the alchemically infused Rosicrucianism of the early 1600s, see: The Secret Temple: Masons, Mysteries, and the Founding of America (New York ; London : Continuum, 2009) and The Angel and The Sorcerer (Lake Worth, FL : Ibis Press, 2012).

On Lovecraft and the Lovecraftian universe, see Gates of the Necronomicon (written by the mysterious “Simon” and attributed to Levenda, New York: Avon, 2006), The Dark Lord: H. P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and the Typhonian Tradition in Magic (with James Wasserman, Lake Worth, FL: Ibis Press, 2013), and The Lovecraft Code (Lake Worth, FL : Ibis Press, 2016).

Who Writes on SynchroMysticism and Synchronicity?

Beside the seemingly ever-present Loren Coleman, and the  other individuals previously highlighted (so far: Jay Dyer, Carl Jung, and Jake Kotze), where else can interested readers turn for more examples and more information?

Here, we will list two (well, three) other others.

The first additional commentator of interest is the comic-book artist and author, Christopher Knowles. He is otherwise known for insightful books such as Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes (with Joseph Michael Linsner, Newburyport, MA: Red Wheel Weiser, 2007),  The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths, and the Movies (with Matt Hurwitz, Insight Editions, 2008), and The Secret History of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The mysterious roots of modern music (Berkeley, CA: Viva Editions, 2010).

Knowles’s weblog, The Secret Sun, is replete with references to SynchroMysticism and synchronicity, as a simple Google search will reveal. One particular post, “Credit Where Credit is Due,” eloquently makes one point that this author has been at pains to disclose: namely, the relevant areas of inquiry derive from the input and thought of many key people.

It is perhaps quite true to say that Carl Jung, more than anyone else, deserves recognition for initiating these studies. However, as Jung himself makes clear, innumerable, pertinent pieces of background came to him by way of reflections upon ancient alchemy (among other sources).

In addition to the above-mentioned post, which is ought to be given a careful read by interested students, Knowles has countless others that should both entertain visitors to his blog, as well as enlighten those wishing to contend with (if not quite get a handle on) SynchroMysticism.

A second fascinating analyst is the curious S. K. Bain, whose Most Dangerous Book in the World: 9/11 as Mass Ritual (Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2012) contains a foreword by Peter Levenda (on whom more in a future writing). In Bain’s telling, the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001, were (in the words of the publisher’s able summary) an “occult-driven… Global Luciferian MegaRitual …a psychological warfare campaign built upon a deadly foundation of black magick and high technology.” It’s quite a SynchroMystical ride.

Something of a companion volume followed. In “Sherwood Kent’s” Most Dangerous: A True Story (Walterville, OR: Trine Day, 2016) one descends into a nightmarish tale abounding in disturbing and lurid instances of synchronicity.

Stay tuned.

Synchronicity Explained: Carl Jung

Little substantive progress can be made in apprehending (let alone comprehending) SynchroMysticism, or in advancing as a SynchroMystic, without grappling seriously with the work of the noted, 19th-20th-century Swiss analytic psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung. With the possible exception of Sigmund Freud (and if one leaves aside somewhat proto-scientific thinkers, like David Hume and John Locke), there is arguably no bigger name in the history of psychology.

Jung pioneered numerous, somewhat abstruse (if not vexed) concepts that have now become common currency in the English language. Entities and phenomena – or alleged entities and phenomena – such as “archetypes,” the “collective unconscious,” “extraversion” and “introversion,” nervous “complexes,” and, most notably from our standpoint, synchronicity.

In this seminal intellect’s lexicon, “synchronicity” marks out a sort of “acausal connecting principle.” What in the world does that mean?

Well, for some principle, P, to be a causal connecting principle would mean for P to explain how two things (say A and B) are related in terms of cause and effect. For instance, A might cause B; B might cause A; C might cause both A and B; C might cause A while D causes B; and so on.

In contemporary jargon, the word “cause” typically designates what Aristotle referred to as an “efficient cause.” He distinguished several other sorts of “cause” or, perhaps more accurately, of explanation.

Consider Mount Rushmore. To Aristotle, some object has first of all a “material cause.” In the case of Mount Rushmore, the material cause is, presumably, granite. Next, the object has a “formal cause.” This is roughly to say that the object has some pattern that it embodies or exhibits. Mount Rushmore is modeled upon the past, real-life visages of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and George Washington.

But an object also has some “efficient cause.” The quick and dirty way of getting a fix on this sort of cause is to think of the agent who applied the form to the matter. In the present case, the straightforward efficient cause of Mount Rushmore was the 19th-20th-century American sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Lastly, to Aristotle, an object also has a “final cause.” As a first pass, we can understand this as the purpose or reason for which the efficient cause acted. Let’s suppose that Borglum carved the faces of the four, previous-named presidents into the granite in order to honor the famous statesmen and increase the tourism business in South Dakota. These considerations, then, would count as final causes.

In any case, twenty-first-century scientific inquiry has little use for the notions of “formal” and “final” causation. Matter, on the other hand, is the work-a-day scientist’s bread and butter. However, referring to matter as a “cause” may have fallen a bit out of favor. That leaves only efficient causation.

Be that as it may, any of the four “causes” can be conceived as “connecting principles.” It’s easy – indeed even trivial – to do so. For example, we can say that “Mount Rushmore” and “granite” are connected in virtue of the fact that the former is “made out of” the latter. Or again, we can say that “Mount Rushmore” and “Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Washington” are connected in virtue of the fact that the former “resembles” the latter. Etc.

What Carl Jung wants to say, then, is that there are additional, “connecting principles” that have nothing to do with causation. Perhaps they have very little even to do with any kind of explanation.

Causation is often taken to be explanatory. If I break out in small, itchy blisters and it turns out that I have chickenpox, then we could say both that my blisters were caused by the chickenpox (varicella) virus and that the chickenpox explains my having broken out in said blisters.

Suppose, however, that John has newly arrived in a large city. He calls a phone number for some random job lead that he has been given only to discover that the person sitting next to him on the bus is the one who answers the call. That “John called X” and that “John was next to X on the bus” are, on the face of it, related neither in terms of causation nor explanation. It seems obvious that John calling X did not cause X to be next to him on the bus. Equally, though, John and X being near each other on the bus does not explain John calling X on the phone (or vice versa).

The two events – John’s call and John and X being in close proximity on the bus at exactly the same time as the phone call – were related in time merely by happenstance. It was a “coincidence.” Or so it would seem.

The two events are connected. If nothing else, they happened simultaneously. Importantly, the sort of connection in view is not causal. It is acausal. Hence, we have what Jung called an “acausal connecting principle.”

When this sort of connection occurs in a noteworthy context or seems to be imbued with some sort of significance, it is termed a synchronicity.

When a person is conscious of, revels in or studies, these sorts of synchronicities, that person could be termed a “SynchroMystic” and be said to have an interest in “SynchroMysticism.”

SynchroMysticism and Esotericism: Jay Dyer

One of the most common questions people have after encountering SynchroMysticism is: What is all this?

There are really two approaches to drafting a sort of first-pass answer.

Number one, a person could try to get a grip on the notion from a conceptual or theoretical standpoint. This is certainly commendable and possibly fruitful. Many of the posts in this series will be attempts to do just this – to “come to terms” with SynchroMysticism (in the sense propounded Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren). However, for many people, there is a far more accessible, practical, and (frankly) engaging avenue.

To put it plainly, number two, a person could just interact with various “Synchs” (as the meaningful coincidences are called) and learn by doing, as it were. In this vein, we will shortly be looking at various examples of SynchroMysticism. Or, at least, I will direct interested readers toward places where such examples may be found, mined, and reflected upon.

One rich resource, in this regard, is the film industry.  It is needful, though, to prime oneself, since what is envisioned is (emphatically) not merely grabbing a box of popcorn and “vegging out” in front of a television or theatre screen. Mindless pastimes have been starkly painted as soul-sucking activities that may literally lead us to amuse ourselves to death, to steal a phrase from the late, 20th-21st-century American author Neil Postman.

On the contrary, what is in view is a critical inspection of select Silver-Screen offerings. To obtain the requisite preparation for this interpretive task, it is highly recommended that neophytes look over the shoulders of those individuals who have as close to a proven track record as it is feasible to get in these matters.

There are several individuals who verge on expertise and whose output is worthy of careful study. (Again, we refer guests to Loren Coleman.) For the purposes of being introduced to the art and science of movie hermeneutics, Jay Dyer ranks surely high on the list of authorities who ought be consulted.

Dyer’s 2016 book, Esoteric Hollywood: Sex, Cults and Symbols in Film (Waterville, OR: Trine Day), is one of the staple texts for any SynchroMysticism 101 course.

Before proceeding, it is worth pondering the word “esoteric” for a moment.

“Esoteric” stands in contrast to “exoteric.” Both words derive from Greco-Roman vocabulary. Specifically, exōterikós marks out something that is “external” or directed “outwardly.” (The word “extrovert” uses the prefix “ex-” similarly.) The idea, here, is that an exoteric doctrine is one that is submitted for mass consumption; it’s promulgated to be believed (and perhaps understand) by the general public.

On the other hand, esōterikós had to do with something that is “internal” or “inwardly” oriented.* Hence, an esoteric principle or teaching is one that is reserved for a much smaller, and possibly private or restricted, group. The subgroup could be initiates into some mystery school or secret society, for instance. In any case, esotericism is the probing into such arcane and perhaps “classified” information.

Mr. Dyer acclimates readers to these matters in a way that is both captivating and enlightening.

In the course of his book, he exposes novices to a way of processing cinema on a deeper level than many will have taken notice of before. Veterans will have much with which to contend as well.

Dyer gives these motion pictures their own, dedicated chapters.

Careful reading of Dyer’s evaluations, in conjunction with a person’s own viewing of the movies in question, constitutes good SynchroMystical training. And most of this is embedded within a very absorbing and lively presentation.

To be sure, Dyer also touches upon theory. For example, he writes:

Synchronicity is real, and the inner worlds are connected to the outer worlds, but in my estimation all this needs to be purged of the gnostic notions of external reality being an “illusion.”

We will delve more into the above notions in future posts. For now, happy watching.

* Commonly used words beginning with “eso-” are in somewhat short supply. Interestingly, the Greek phageîn meant “to eat.” Our anatomical word “esophagus” could be – obscurely – thought of as an “internal thing” associated with eating. For more etymological musings, see The Etymologicon.

As a postscript, it is worth noting that there are numerous other films that deserve careful viewing from the budding or practiced SynchroMystic.  Some of them are linked to, below.