Across the Universe

For a moment in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s it seemed that Findhorn was the heart and soul of the New Age – the Aquarian Nazareth; but in 1967 the Beatles met the Maharishi Marash Yogi and, not for the first time, both East and West became entwined in the re-definition of personal and planetary spirituality. Ojai, already established as a center of occultism and Theosophy by the 1920’s, was inevitably impacted by the emergence of these twin focii of spiritual regeneration.

Shortly after I came to live here, I had the opportunity to listen to Dorothy MacLean and David Spangler (two of the four inspirational founders of Findhorn) when they gave talks at Meditation Mount. Their visits were arranged by the then director of the Mount, Roger Collis, who with his wife Katherine have long been involved with what is now the Findhorn Foundation. Roger and Katherine journeyed to Findhorn as young lovers and were married there.

Many in Ojai have the Findhorn experience as part of their resume but I have never gotten closer to the one-time caravan site (now a United Nations sanctioned eco-village) than Inverness when, over the Easter break in 1966, I drove up from Cheltenham to Scotland in an old Austin Somerset with two college friends.

Findhorn sits on its eponymous river which flows into the gaping maw that is the Firth of Moray. Inverness is located at the Firth’s throat, fed by the River Ness which travels east from the famously monstrous loch. We drove into town along the Great Glen on the A-82, tracing the massive geological fault which bisects the Highlands. The fault is evidenced by an almost straight line of prodigiously deep, unfathomable lochs which run west from the Inner Hebrides to Inverness, and here we spent the night at the local Youth Hostel before heading south on the A-9. We thus came within 20 miles of Findhorn - evidently just beyond the limits of its thralldom for we had no inkling of its existence. It was many years later before I became aware of the stories surrounding the place – of Dorothy speaking with vegetable spirits and of the giant plants and prodigious crops produced with the cooperation of these devas in the poor soil and sub-arctic climate of a windswept Moray scrubland.

The Community, begun in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean eventually become a magnet to the spiritually and ecologically inclined youth of the West who saw it as a modern Garden of Eden. We three returned to Cheltenham and continued our Environmental Design studies. A year later, the Beatles met the Maharishi and began their personal and musical transformation into a fey psychedelia, which in turn, helped re-establish an eastern front in the highly fluid space in which post-war generations defined their personal spirituality (Valley of the Blue Moon).

This English upper middle class tradition of tweedy spiritualism (veering on occasion, as with the much-married Peter Caddy, into a goatish occultism) established at Findhorn, and the ethereal asceticism of the Yogic tradition described the limits of the western alternative spirit realm for three decades; within these capacious temporal and intellectual boundaries, other consciousness expanding protocols existed, like Mahayana Buddhism (Lost Horizon), and the ingestion of hallucinogens, but Ojai - 50 years on from the beginnings of the Findhorn community - exists within that same psychic geography; in a spirit-land where still flows a Theosophical stream.

Recent research in Germany suggests that birds navigate during migration using both a genetically inherited sense of direction and magnetic receptors (which support an internalized magnetic map) that enables them to use the Earth's magnetic field lines to establish their location. Paul Hawken, who spent a year at Findhorn in the early 70’s and subsequently wrote The Magic of Findhorn, Harper and Row, 1975, proposes that the earth is also gridded with etheric lines that link places of spiritual resonance or power points. John Mitchell, in View over Atlantis, 1972, may have been the first to overlay this notion on the archaeological explorations of Alfred Watkins (The Old Straight Track, 1925) which reveal a dense network of ley-lines linking ancient mounds, dolmens and shrines across the British Isles, and suggest that these grids are, in fact, one and the same – fields of etheric energy organized into strands of vital energy, or what many cultures (including the Chumash) call spirit paths. Pilgrims, or shamans - in worlds more attuned to these etheric signposts - might journey along these paths between places of particular resonance, where, Hawken suggests, humans may experience other forms of consciousness. Sensitives (seers or clairvoyants), retain the use of ancient receptors and, apparently, see the golden lines that make up these energy fields. (There is not, as yet, a Max Planck Institute to confirm the validity of these visions).

Other authors have taken up this theme, and I last touched on the subject in the series of pieces I did on the mystical landscapes of the Languedoc, RV III, Red Soil and Legend. Findhorn is located on a sandy spit that lies to the south of the roiling delta fed by the River Findhorn and the Burn of Mosset. Its beach undergoes a ceaseless metamorphosis as the North Sea churns the sand swept down the delta. It is a place of sand, sky and water and in the quicksilver northern light it can become, as residents of the community attest, a truly mystical landscape. There are many such places spread across the planet. Southern California has more than its share. Ojai is a place of power and light, while in the Mojave there are places of preternatural natural beauty which possess intense energy fields, such as Joshua Tree.

Death Valley features histrionic landscapes that almost inevitably conjure other worlds and Hari Kunzru sets his 2011 novel, Gods Without Men in just such a setting, a place of power he calls The Pinnacles (Trona Pinnacles). Kunzru layers tales that occur within this landscape over a span of 250 years: there is the Franciscan missionary wandering in the desert; a nineteenth century Mormon outcast who sees The Pinnacles as an eschatological text; a John Harrington-like archaeologist desperately collecting the last snatches of Indian language in the 1920’s and a WWII Air force mechanic who sends messages out into space from a laboratory beneath the sand - and becomes a UFO-cult leader to the lost, meth-addled children of the local, spiritless desert towns. In other words, Kunzru mirrors the real histories of California where, amidst the strange allure of mystical landscapes, good and evil are magnified through an etheric prism.

Peter Caddy (a former Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force) covered the spectral water front. He had relationships with sensitives that fed him information from the Christic, fairie, elvic, deva and alien worlds. The founders of Findhorn were avowed watchers of the northern skies. Caddy was convinced that aliens were about to arrive on earth and went as far as clearing landing areas for them. In true cult fashion, he assured his followers that the aliens would spirit them (and only them) away, ahead of a confidently predicted nuclear or environmental catastrophe. Caddy left Findhorn in 1979, re-married and died in a car crash in Germany in 1994.

In 1968, John Lennon wrote Across the Universe and it was included on the final Beatles album, Let it Be. He sings,

Images of broken light,
Which dance before me like a million eyes,
They call me on and on across the Universe…

and intones the mantra, Jai Guru Deva, Om