An Introduction by Colin Wilson
Photograph Coutesy of www.predictionmagazine.co.uk
An overview of Joyce Collin-Smith's life experiences
and an introduction to her work.
In her autobiography Call No Man Master (1988) Joyce Collin-Smith describes her experiences with three of the most remarkable gurus of the twentieth century: Pak Subuh, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and her brother-in-law Rodney Collin-Smith, better known as Rodney Collin, the author of The Theory of Celestial Influence. The autobiography seems to me a classic of its kind and, in the case of Pak Subuh and the Maharishi, makes clear the dangers that can arise from 'discipleship'.
Through her brother-in-law, Joyce was introduced to the teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky - particularly the latter, with whom Rodney Collin had had a relation of deep friendship that transcended disicipleship.
Ouspensky had originally been a follower of Gurdjieff, and his teaching sprang from the same insight: that everyday human consciousness amounts to a form of sleep, and that with the right kind of effort, we can begin to wake up. When Ouspensky broke with Gurdjieff - for a variety of reasons - the chief one of which was obviously that he wished to cease being a follower and become a teacher - he came to London and gave a series of lectures that brought him many disciples. One of these was the woman who became Rodney Collin's wife, Janet Buckley, and it was through her that he was introduced to the 'work'.
By the time Joyce met him, Ouspensky was dead - Collin had been deeply traumatised by his death. As a teenager Joyce had been a member of the 'Oxford Group,'later known as Moral Rearmament, and was ready to imbibe new ideas. The teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, as conveyed by Rodney Collin, satisfied her both emotionally and intellectually.
Rodney Collin died suddenly on May 3, 1956, falling from the tower of the cathedral in Cuzco, Peru - probably made dizzy by the height above sea level. He was 48. So Joyce lost the man who had become her mentor.
Two years before his death, his remarkable book The Theory of Celestial Influence had been published in England. As the title makes clear, Collin attached great importance to the heavenly bodies. Like the ancients, he saw man, the 'microcosm', as a reflection of the universe, the macrocosm. The book shows a remarkable medical knowledge of the human body and its organs, particularly the glands. And when he comes to the assertion that the planets rule different organs of the human body, he adds that it will be necessary to reconsider, from a scientific point of view, the propositions of astrology. (p. 143.) It is significant, he says, that although we have discarded most of the assumptions of mediaeval and renaissance astrology, we still use the names of the planets to denote certain human dispositions - mercurial, jovial, saturnine, and so on. He states his view that when a baby emerges from the womb, it is as if it possessed a set of light-meters, each sensitive to the light of one of the planets, and that these meters record the moment of birth, and determine the child's future development.
It was when Joyce returned to England after Rodney Collin's death that she enrolled with the Faculty of Astrological Studies, and then went on to cast her brother-in-law's chart. When setting it up she was unable to enter his Ascendant (the sign rising at the time of birth), but thought it might be Scorpio. At that point she heard his voice saying to her: 'It's Cancer' - which proved to be correct.
Now Joyce herself has always been 'psychic'. She mentions in The Pathless Land that even in childhood she often felt there was someone in the room with her. 'Angels or fairies, or even people who had died, seemed sometimes to be 'just around'.' So her sense of contact with her brother in law is not surprising. And neither is her interest in astrology, for astrology can give us profound insights into character.
The Maharishi, she told me, was also interested in astrology, but although he admitted to being a Capricorn, he would not divulge the year of his birth - for a reason I shall return to in a moment.
I myself learned just how accurate astrology can be as a result of being co-opted to write a horoscope column for a weekend magazine given away with the Observer newspaper. I knew very little of the subject when the editor approached me, and I accepted because I thought it would give me the opportunity to 'learn astrology'. And over the next few months, I did precisely that. I learned how to cast horoscopes simply by buying and studying dozens of books on the subject. I certainly never thought of myself as a true astrologer. Then an interesting experience taught me to recognise that astrology is not merely an intellectual discipline. One day, a reader wrote to me about her son, who had committed suicide, and gave me the precise time and date of his birth. As I began to cast his horoscope, I suddenly realised that his personality was beginning to take shape in front of me. Suddenly, I understood what kind of a person he was, and why he had decided to commit suicide. I wrote his mother a long letter, outlining my conclusions, and received a reply saying that I had portrayed him so accurately that it was as if I had known him.
So I am not surprised that the Maharishi was unwilling to provide the necessary information to cast his horoscope. It is like allowing someone to read your private diary. And the Maharishi, I am inclined to believe, was not the kind of person to wish to give anyone access to his inner being, for a reason touched on in Call No Man Master. When Francis Roles, one of Ouspensky's leading followers, took over the English branch of the Maharishi's organisation, it seems he lost no time in applying to it the obsessively strict discipline which was typical of Ouspensky's own interpretation of 'the Fourth Way'. Soon he had driven away those followers he felt to be too light hearted or insufficiently enamoured of discipline. The Maharishi's headquarters in Prince Albert Road, Regent's Park, ceased to be full of laughter. Suddenly, all was serious and rather gloomy. Returning from his travels, the Maharishi found this disturbing, and exerted all his charm, persuasiveness and hypnotic power to persuade Roles - who was also the financial provider of the group - to alter his approach. This failed completely, and Joyce records that those who saw the Maharishi immediately after this confrontation saw 'an expression of naked anger' on the guru's face. 'He looked frighteningly human' said one follower, to which Joyce comments: 'It had already occurred to me that, in spite of the claims on [his] flowery writing paper, Maharishi could not be called a fully-realised man'. It was the beginning of her disillusionment with him.
It was in the late '60s that Joyce first began to study the Tarot in depth. At an Astrological Association conference, a fellow delegate did a spread of cards for her, and she was astonished at their accuracy. The man spoke of her two marriages, one brief and unhappy, her estrangement from her daughter, and then went on to speak about an old friend who was 'distressed about a dear one' who was very ill in another country. Joyce, he said, would be able to assure her friend that all would be well. That evening she visited an old friend in Barnes, and learned that she was indeed frantic about her son, who had fallen ill in Australia. But, as the cards had foretold, he recovered.
But how can this be possible? Even if we are willing to accept that the Tarot reader may have been 'psychic', this still leaves the apparently unanswerable question of how the cards themselves can have indicated that Joyce had been married twice, etc. Of course, most Tarot readers would reply that it is not the cards themselves that provide the information, but the subtle interaction between the cards and the mind of the 'reader'. But that still leaves the question unanswered.
It is, of course, the same question we encounter in other 'occult' arts that depend on 'readings', whether of hands, tealeaves or the I Ching. There can be no logical explanation of how any operation that depends on chance - the patterns formed by tealeaves or the throwing down of three coins - can produce anything but a chance result. Yet anyone who is skilled in the practice will tell you otherwise. And I personally accept that this is so.
Joyce herself comes close to suggesting a reason when, in Call No Man Master, she remarks that the Maharishi's teaching was 'an attempt to turn the world back to the innocence of its own beginnings, and says: 'But in my heart I believed that the way forward for man was not by returning to first beginnings, but by pressing onward in some way. In this I was subscribing once again to the idea of man as a self-creating being, as Gurdjieff described him, and thinking of an evolving system of some kind, and of the growth of consciousness. I did not think one could actually contract out of the sufferings that seemed to be a part of life in a developing world'.
What she is implying is that man has some odd capacity to create himself, to expand into areas that already, in a sense, belong to him. In this present book, Joyce evokes an image used by Gurdjieff: that we should think of man as someone who lives in an enormous house, with dozens of rooms, but for some odd reason, confines himself to the basement. Moreover, the house possesses electricity, and all he has to do is throw the switch; but he has forgotten about its existence, and lives by candlelight.
In his poem The Maze, Auden writes:
The answer that I cannot find
Is known to my unconscious mind.
I have no reason to despair
Because I am already there.
It is surely this unknown part of the mind, what the paranormal investigator F. W.H. Myers called 'the subliminal self', that explains how a chance operation, like throwing down coins or shuffling cards, can produce meaningful results. Many of us take it for granted that we can tell ourselves that we have to be awake at five in the morning, and wake up on the dot of five. The same 'unknown self' seems to collaborate in interpreting the cards or a birth chart. Jung regarded this 'unknown self' as responsible for synchronicities.
But to place too much emphasis on 'the unknown self' would be to misrepresent the way Joyce sees reality. She also accepts the existence of what, for want of a better word, we have to call 'spirits', as well as of 'elementals' and fairies. And it was in this connection that I came upon one of her rare incomplete or one-sided stories, which presents me with an opportunity of saying something important about her attitude to 'the spirit world'.
On page 40 Joyce mentions the famous case of the Cottingley fairies, which was brought to the attention of the British public by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the Christmas issue of The Strand Magazine for 1920. Two schoolgirls, Frances Griffiths, 10, and her cousin Elsie Wright, 17, claimed they had seen fairies by the 'beck', a stream in a wooded dell. The adults naturally disbelieved them, so Elsie borrowed her father's camera, and came back with a photograph of Frances leaning on a bank and gazing at tiny winged creatures who were apparently fairies. Soon after that they brought back a photograph of Elsie watchng a dancing gnome. Elsie's father made several prints. But it was not until after the war that a meeting of the local Theosophical Society was told about the photographs, and copies fell into the hands of a London Theosophist who examined them and decided they were genuine. After Conan Doyle's article, Elsie and Frances became briefly famous. And in the face of powerful scepticism, the girls continued to maintain that the photographs were genuine.
A psychic investigator name Joe Cooper made a television programme with Elsie and Frances in 1976, on which they continued to maintain that the photographs were genuine. But in the following year, a researcher named Fred Gettings proved otherwise. Looking through a volume called Queen Mary's Gift Book, published during the First World War, he came upon the fairies of the photographs, illustrating a poem by Alfred Noyes. The magician James Randi thereupon denounced the two girls in an article in The New Scientist.
In 1981, Cooper met Frances again, and she admitted that the fairies had been propped up with hatpins. And that seemed to close the case.
But not quite. Cooper, whom I had known since the previous year, had written a book called Modern Psychic Experiences in which he had argued - as Joyce does - that there really are such things as 'elementals', nature spirits, and investigated a number of cases in which people claimed to have seen them. As it happened, I had also come across a number of such cases - for example, a Scots television interviewer had told me casually, in the course of a conversation in a pub, that he had once seen a gnome on the pavement outside a convent gate, and that it had 'scared the hell' out of him. And a friend named Lois Bourne, a psychic who (in her book Witch Among Us) describes herself as a witch, tells a completely circumstantial and detailed story of how, on holiday at Crantock, in Cornwall, the husband of another member of a 'wicca' coven had taken her to a local stream at sunrise, where she saw a goblin sitting on a stone washing his socks. It saw them and disappeared. 'Now do you believe us?' asked the husband.
Now according to Joe Cooper, both Elsie and Frances were psychic, and Frances had been seeing fairies for months when she told her cousin about them. She admitted to seeing fairies when her parents beame irritable with her when she had fallen into the back a second time, And asked her why she went down there, Frances had admitted she went to look at fairies. And it was the total incredulity of the adults that led Elsie and Frances to concoct the hoax with the cut-out fairies.
After Conan Doyle's article, the girls were in a difficult position. In effect, they had to live their lives with a lie. But if they admitted it was a lie, they would also be claiming that the fairies never existed. And that, they insisted, was simply not true.
Like Joe Cooper, I am willing to believe the girls were telling the truth. Both had had many psychic experiences, which Joe records (and which anyone who wants to explore further can find summarised in my son Damon's article on fairies in our joint book Unsolved Mysteries Past and Present).
Joe's book The Case of the Cottingley Fairies received little publicity and is still not widely known. This has given me the opportunity to speak of my own attitude to these things, and to explain why, like Joyce, I accept the reality of these 'elementals', as did the poet W.B.Yeats and his friend Lady Gregory, and as did the writer and researcher Evans Wentz in his classic book on the subject, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.
All this explains why I can recommend the present book so whole-heartedly.
When Joyce told me she had written The Pathless Land, I was eager to see it, for I expected it to be an autobiographical sequel to Call No Man Master, and because I regard that volume as a masterpiece, could hardly wait to read its successor. Joyce sent me The Pathless Land as an email attachment, It was not what I had anticipated, but I was not more than a few dozen pages into the book when I realised that it is something equally valuable: a summary of what Joyce has learned over a lifetime.
Whether she will now, at the age of 85, write another book I do not know. What I can say is that these two books contain the essence of her life and work, and will secure her place as one of the most interesting writers and teachers of the twentieth century.