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 Defined: Jake Kotze

SynchroMystic guru Loren Coleman credited author and filmmaker Jake Kotze with having coined the term “synchromysticism.” Coleman wrote:

The word “synchromysticism” was first coined by Jake Kotze in August 2006, on his website-at-the-time, Brave New World Order.* Kotze defined the concept as: “The art of realizing meaningful coincidence in the seemingly mundane with mystical or esoteric significance.” (Source.)

Let us mine some of the depths in this quotation.

One thing to notice is that the qualifier “meaningful” appears to do quite a bit of work. After all, on one definition of the word, “coincidence” merely marks out temporal correspondence.

Many of these correspondences are indeed mundane (both in the sense of being commonplace or worldly, and in the sense of being run-of-the-mill or, in a word, dull). For instance, as I type this, there is a song playing in the background, the air conditioner just kicked on, two Mourning doves are walking around outside, and so on.

Presumably, however, no one is tempted by the notion that there is any remarkable (i.e., meaningful) relationship between any of the scattered goings on that I just listed. For, at any given time, innumerable events are occurring simultaneously. The vast majority of these events with be nothing to write home about – whether individually or considered together.

What the synchromystic looks for, then, is not merely events that are temporally related, but events that are temporally associated in particular, “meaningful” ways.

Candidate events may have uninspired, “exoteric” (or outward and easily comprehended) meanings on the surface. But the synchromystic is the person who may notice esoteric significance lying under the uninteresting appearances.  (Or, at least, this is one way that person sympathetic to the project may understand it. Less sympathetic individuals may be tempted to the opinion that the synchromystic is “reading-into” events or engaging in wishful thinking or self-delusion.)

Kotze was a contributor to The Sync Book, published in 2011. He seems to take a monistic view of reality. On this sort of perspective, which appears (among other places) in some streams of Hinduism, all things are, ultimately “one.” Sameness is the fundamental property of existence, while difference is explained as illusion (maya).

Within this broad framework, synchronicity (that is, significant coincidence or simultaneity of “connected” events) is taken to be to a psychological phenomenon in which the percipient catches a glimpse of the “true,” undifferentiated nature of things.

Kotze’s view, while interesting, is far from the only view. In other posts, we will explore the views of other, influential thinkers from the famed Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung and Hungarian-British journalist Arthur Koestler, to lesser-known figures like the oraculist James Shelby Downard, and on to more contemporary commentators including the aforementioned cryptozoologist, Loren Coleman.

Stay tuned.

* Kotze’s weblog title is a composite of two phrases. Firstly, it is a reference to the so-called “New World Order.” Arguably, this phrase has at least two different interpretations. For more on the imperialistic interpretation, see books by Noam Chomsky and Henry Kissinger. For those with more conspiratorial turns of mind, see the “illuminist” interpretation propounded by persons like Mark Dice and A. Ralph Epperson. Secondly, Kotze’s phrase hearkens back to Aldous Huxley’s classic, 1932 novel, Brave New World. Huxley’s book, along with George Orwell’s dystopian nightmare, 1984, are practically required reading.