The Occult (Colin Wilson)

the occultThe original angry young man. The Outsider himself. Colin Wilson (1931 – 2013 ) was my literary pin – up when I was a teenager. In 1984 I read a chapter from his book “Mysteries” titled ‘How Many Me’s Are There?’ I’ve never been the same since. Mr W gave me a nervous breakdown. You name it and he transmitted it to me – panic attacks were just the entre.

The main course involved so many symptoms of nervous disease that I’m sure phantom pregnancy was involved too. Not too many writers have that effect on their readers. I would have paid to hear this man rattle his cufflinks. Now it seems like a life time ago.  So what does the unsuspecting novice get here? Read on MacDuff…

Mr Wilson had some very strange ideas, and put them over as if they were facts. He believed in something called “Faculty X”. He believed that a medieval monk could fly about and land on the high altar. He believed that stage mentalist Peter Hurkos really could read minds and so-called “medium” D D Home (because he was never caught out) was “genuine”. He believed any Irish person is naturally psychic just because they are Irish. Sadly no-one can levitate, read minds, or speak with the dead, and I would question whether people who believe these things are facts are really qualified to write an impartial book. As an impressionable teenager I literally swallowed everything this seductive writer produced.

The book itself is unlike anything you’ll find these days. It was written decades ago and as such is very dated in its assumptions and conclusions. Let’s just say a number of his viewpoints would clash with our politically correct masters these days. For example he believed homosexuality was an evolutionary mistake. Nevertheless, I believe this adds to its eccentric charm as there is something innocent about the way he writes, and his thirst to explore is so passionate. Wilson explores a wide variety of occult phenomena ranging from magick to ghosts to ufos to werewolves to the I Ching. You may yawn today but back when Nixon was president this was way – out stuff. I remember being amazed at my first glimpse into esoteric systems like the Kabbalah and the chakras.

Trying to write a history of the extraordinary powers of human beings, tying it all together and keeping the reader interested, is a mighty task. To his credit Mr Wilson allowed his soul to roam poetically down the corridors of past-life-experiences, shady secret societies, and ancient systems of divination. This is a non-fiction work written as if it is a sweeping novel. He was a disciple of George Bernard Shaw and his literary discipline shines through every page. Nearly 800 pages long, Wilson can at times be far too self-reverential, and he isn’t always objective enough. His self – expression was emotionally driven and he didn’t always let facts get in the way. I was just one admirer among a fan base consisting of murder buffs, UFO spotters and new age believers all over the world.

Aleister Crowley, John Dee, Cagliostro, Emmanuel Swedenborg, the Golden Dawn, Helen Blavatsky and George Gurdjieff all get their biographies polished up a treat for the sympathetic reader. Just the names of some of these people used to put me into a trance. I remember my mouth dropping open when I learned Rasputin was stabbed at the same moment the Duke of Sarajevo was assassinated. When Colin Wilson was on a roll he impregnated me with the sensation that everything on this earth is a creepy synchronicity. Reading this in those pre-Internet days I felt like a servant boy hiding in the barn from a cruel master. Dipping into these pages was thrilling, like I was supping from the font of Forbidden Truth. Rest in peace Colin, you could make a phone directory seem fascinating.

colin wilson


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