Intellect – it’s not a dirty word

‘You can’t feel God any more than you can think God’ – Karen Armstrong

Sadly, when it comes to the view of intellect within much of the New Age and Pagan communities, the following line of Skyhook’s classic is very apposite: ‘Don’t you believe what you’ve seen or heard’.

This is because an intellectual approach to the mysteries is downplayed while an emotional, ‘feeling’ approached is valorised beyond all sense or reason. Ha! That was deliberate 🙂

This post was prompted as a response to a recent discussion on an Australian Facebook Pagan group where I saw things that both amazed and dismayed me. Now of course, a few pixels on a screen may not transfer the originating intellect’s (again, deliberate) intention, but after a few dozen comments from several folk, one does tend to get the gist. And in this case, come away a mite wobbly, muttering under one’s breath, Uncle Alick’s famous exclamation, ‘I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts’ 🙂

hey man half brain RAW

The problem is large and multilayered but appears to focus around three areas:

1) Valuing the emotional sphere over the intellectual

2) The lack of language to describe various states of being

3) A confusion between various states of being


The first is the simplest to address, to wit: as soon as anyone values the intellect or emotions as more valuable than the other you have entered the land of Nod where you will wander in oblivion crying out for the Lord of truth. So there 🙂

The intellect is a key tool for understanding our world, ourselves and the mysteries. It is not a lesser importance than ‘the emotions’ – and the fact that people are valorising ‘feeling’ as better than intellect OVER THE FUCKING INTERNET also means they cannot see when irony is chomping on their bum.

To make sense of this topic I am going to refer to the Qabalah and the Tree of Life – it will be very useful for points two and three especially. OK – look here.

The Tree of Life

Our outer, regular everyday personality selves are comprised of the lower four spheres, Malkuth through Netzach – in really shorthand form: Body, Reactions, Intellect, Emotions. The fifth lowest sphere, Tiphareth forms (again using shorthand) the ‘I’, the real self that has a body but is not the body, that has reactions, thoughts and emotions but has no identification with any of these. Note that intellect and emotions are on the same level and each form the base of a greater form of consciousness above them.

Both are essential, both are divine and both can access the higher consciousness of Tipahreth and ‘control’ or temper the reactive nature of Yesod, for example through Art-Therapy or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The 70s style ‘encounter groups’ where folk expressed and worked through their ‘issues’ via Yesod reactions have proven to be pretty much useless for long term personal growth and change.

The same essential verity of co-equality between these two spheres is found in all authentic traditions not just Qabalah, and for anyone to value Netzach above Hod or vice versa is just plain STUPID.


One of the greatest problems to infect and distort the New Age and the Pagan communities is the lack of spiritual literacy. Not only are terms confused – one person’s ‘astral’ is another person’s ‘etheric’ – but often there is no reference at all to a coherent overarching system, like Qabalah. For example, variants of these sentences are being said by various folk over the world right now:

  1. When the bastard cut me off on the road, I felt like bludgeoning him to death.
  2. When I’m with you, I feel like nothing I’ve felt before.
  3. The feeling when the Rinpoche blessed me was out of this world.
  4. I felt the ghost come around me on the left hand side.

All are feelings, eh?


In the four examples above, the first refers to a Yesod reaction based on mammalian territorial politics, the second to a Netzach connection, the third (hopefully) to a Tiphareth communion and the fourth to … Gods knows what? But they are all use the word ‘FEEL’ – and we think we understand this.

If we do not constantly unpack this sort of chatter, which often occurs at the end of a group session, we necessarily just promote confusion. If we do not seek to clarify exactly what ‘feel’ means, we again are on the way to Nod. It is inevitable and is why any decent spiritual system insists on self-reflection and clarification. Hold that thought (yes, deliberate :))

A development of this linguistic confusion occurs when folk have an experience on the inner levels that is beyond their consciousness level of participation. We do not automatically function on the Tiphareth level – heck, most of us just react from Yesod most of the time. One has to learn to develop a capacity to function at the level of the self. It requires careful training and guided self-observation.

So if someone is not trained to function on the Tiphareth level, and they intersect or come across a Tiphareth presence or blessing – which hopefully they will at something like a Drawing Down of the Moon – they have to interpret and experience the blessing as best they can. Depending on the person it is likely to be within Netzach or Hod (and sadly, sometimes Yesod). So James will experience the Goddess in and as ‘feeling’. Penny might do the same as ‘thought/ideas’ … but the presence will be really there, within these spheres. And therefore they will really, honestly say they ‘felt’ the Goddess or the Goddess was ‘in their mind’. These are both true and both limited, as the Goddess is beyond feeling, beyond thought and requires a trained method of perception to fully interact with Her.

Now if James is part of a New Age or Pagan group that values ‘feelings’ and has little spiritual literacy, this experience will just reinforce the idea that ‘feelings’ are spiritual. The lack of discernment and language, not to mention ability to interact at the required levels, means that other ‘feelings’ – like Madonna sings about when made ‘brand new’ through smooching, can be mistaken as ‘spiritual’. And this, my friends, explains the plethora of comments on Facebook that made me and a friend pretty giddy.

The antidote is of course training in both spiritual literacy and methods of actual, real spiritual unfolding. Sadly, as I detail in this post, ‘Spirituality: are we doing it right?’, we often miss the mark and to quote the amazing Rev Dr Cynthia Bourgeault:

As Buddhism observed long ago, pain and pleasure are simply two ends of the old “egoic stick.” As long as one is drawing one’s vital energy from self-esteem, self-affirmation, and self-expression, even in service of the purest and noblest of causes, one is still orbiting within the egoic feedback loop. As long as happiness and a personal sense of selfworth are still the measures by which one relates to life and adjusts one’s heading; as long as vitality is the measure of spiritual wellbeing, one is trapped within the egoic feedback system. These are not moral judgments; they are descriptive criteria. And by these criteria, it is depressingly clear that ninety-nine percent of what is being promulgated as contemporary Western spirituality is merely fine-tuning the ego. (emphasis added).

I see no reason to exclude New Age, Pagan and Magical spiritualties from this assessment – but they remain, in my view the best hope for authentic and powerful spirituality, personal and communal, we have. So let’s get spiritually literate, eh? THANKS 🙂



  1. alexsumner · October 30, 2014

    It gets worse. When someone *tries* to be intellectual, and you play them at their own game and point out that they’re wrong, arguing with lots of logical fallacies, have failed to look up basic information that’s freely available on the internet, etc – that’s when you get accused of being Dogmatic. And if you point out that that’s not what “dogmatic” actually means, that in itself is evidence of you being Dogmatic. Basically, trying to be an intellectual in esoteric circles is a thankless endeavour.

  2. freemanpresson · October 31, 2014

    Traditionally, angels were said to understand intuitively, according to their rank, while humans had to plod along with reason.

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