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This is Freedom Essay 51
Sir Laurens van der Post’s great vision
Jeremy Griffith considers Sir Laurens van der Post to be the most exceptional denial-free thinking prophet and philosopher of the twentieth century. The depth of his influence on Jeremy’s life is revealed by the fact that he is the author most often quoted in his book FREEDOM.
Sir Laurens Jan van der Post (1906–1996), who was knighted in 1981 ‘for public service’, was a South African author, farmer, war hero, political adviser to British heads of government, close friend of HRH Prince Charles, godfather of Prince William, educator, journalist, humanitarian, explorer and philosopher.
Consistent with Jeremy’s view of him, Sir Laurens’s full-page obituary in London’s The Times described him as ‘a prophet out of Africa’ (20 Dec. 1996; see ). He wrote some 30 books and made six film series for the BBC, including The Lost World of the Kalahari (1956), which, at the time, attracted the biggest television audience next to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (see The Heart of the Hunter, p.117 of 233). Sir Laurens was so important a person to Prince Charles that there is ‘A bronze bust of van der Post…in Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove’ (Christopher Booker, ‘Post, Sir Laurens Jan van der’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004). The former British Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, once described Sir Laurens as ‘the most perfect man I have ever met’ (mentioned in J.D.F. Jones interview on Late Night Live, ABC Radio, 25 Feb. 2002), and Sir James Darling, Australia’s greatest ever educator, and Jeremy’s headmaster when he was a student at Geelong Grammar School, which is also the school Prince Charles attended, wrote that ‘In the world of books there are, for me, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, or Laurens van der Post’ (The Education of a Civilized Man, ed. Michael Persse, 1962, p.36 of 223). (See for explanation of prophets.)
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I cannot overstate the inspiring, soul-reinforcing influence Sir Laurens van der Post has had on my life. What follows is my description of how his books about humanity’s lost state of innocence helped me to hold onto the truth of the existence of another true world and ultimately solve the human condition. Indeed, the reason I chose to launch my book FREEDOM at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in London was because that is where Sir Laurens, in his 1990 RGS Television Lecture of the Year, anticipated FREEDOM and its ultimate exploration, which is into the human condition. (See for the breakthrough explanation of the human condition.)
In Sir Laurens’s lecture he said: ‘It’s been said that the explorers in mankind must be singularly unemployed because there’s nothing left in this world to explore. Well of course that depends on what you mean by exploration…in the sense to which exploration is both an exploration into the physical and into the spirit of man there is a lot ahead in your keeping…there is exploration in reverse to do. We must go sharply into reverse…we must rehabilitate ourselves. We must get our old natural selves to join with our other conscious, wilful, rational, scientific selves…Your job is not over.’
With regard to Sir Laurens’s vision, I gave this summary of it in my dedication to him in my 1991 book Beyond The Human Condition with this quote from his writing: ‘…for I had a private hope of the utmost importance to me. The Bushman’s physical shape combined those of a child and a man: I surmised that examination of his inner life might reveal a pattern which reconciled the spiritual opposites in the human being and made him whole…it might start the first movement towards a reconciliation…’ (Laurens van der Post, The Heart of the Hunter, 1961, p.135 of 233).
Yes, Sir Laurens’s vision was to use the Bushmen or San people of southern Africa—that DNA studies have shown to be the most ancient race of humans alive in the world today—to resurrect the truth that humans once lived happy, loving, harmonious, innocent-of-upset lives. Since (as these Freedom Essays make clear) the upset state of the human condition began some two million years ago and has been increasing ever since, the Bushmen, being relatively modern people, must be far from being completely free of upset, however, compared with the rest of the existing races of humans in the world they are comparatively free of it. As Sir Laurens recognised, in the difference between them and other existing races we can see something of what innocence is like (see for explanation of the differences between races). And, as I will shortly explain, since an admission of this truth that our distant ancestors were cooperative and loving (not brutish, competitive and aggressive savages as mechanistic science says they were; see ) is fundamental for a truthful analysis of our human condition, what Sir Laurens admitted does—and did—‘start the first movement towards a reconciliation’ of the dilemma of the human condition.
The following condensation of the beginning of The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958), which is Sir Laurens’s famous first book about the Bushmen, further illustrates Sir Laurens’s vision: ‘This is the story of a journey in a great wasteland [Kalahari Desert] and a search for some pure remnant of the unique and almost vanished First People of my native land, the Bushmen of Africa…I know…that no sooner did I become aware of myself as a child than my imagination slipped…into a profound pre-occupation with the little Bushman and his terrible fate…Beside the open hearth on cold winters’ nights on my mother’s farm…the vanished Bushman would be vividly at the centre of some hardy pioneering reminiscence; a Bushman gay, gallant, mischievous, unpredictable, and to the end unrepentant and defiant…He was present in the eyes of one of the first women to nurse me, her shining gaze drawn from the first light of some unbelievably antique African day [because she had]…a strain of Bushman blood…The older I grew the more I resented that I had come too late on the scene to know him [the Bushman] in the flesh…They said…there had never been anyone who could run like him over the veld…When he laughed, which he did easily, his face broke into innumerable little folds…Whenever my mother read us a fairy-tale with a little man performing wonders in it, he was immediately transformed in my imagination into a Bushman. Perhaps this life of ours, which begins as a quest of the child for the man, and ends as a journey by the man to rediscover the child, needs a clear image of some child-man, like the Bushman, wherein the two are firmly and lovingly joined in order that our confused hearts may stay at the centre of their brief round of departure and return’ (pp.11–13 of 253). Sir Laurens has here recognised and acknowledged how we humans once did live in an innocent, happy, loving state which we then lost, and he has described his vision of reconnecting us with that truth in order that we might better find our way back home to that ‘lost world of the Kalahari’—the Kalahari also being a metaphor for our ‘pure’ soul, that ‘great wasteland’ of neglected substance and soundness within us.
As further evidence of his vision it is worthwhile including more of Sir Laurens’s inspirational, truth-full writing about the Bushmen: ‘He [the Bushman] and his needs were committed to the nature of Africa and the swing of its wide seasons as a fish to the sea. He and they all participated so deeply of one another’s being that the experience could almost be called mystical. For instance, he seemed to know what it actually felt like to be an elephant, a lion, an antelope, a steenbuck, a lizard, a striped mouse, mantis, baobab tree, yellow-crested cobra, or starry-eyed amaryllis, to mention only a few of the brilliant multitudes through which he so nimbly moved. Even as a child it seemed to me that his world was one without secrets between one form of being and another’ (The Lost World of the Kalahari, 1958, p.21 of 253). ‘Wherever he [the Bushman] went he contained, and was contained, deeply within a symmetry of the land. His spirit was naturally symmetrical…And there is proof too of the balance and rough justice of his arrangements in the fact that when my ancestors landed on the southern tip of the continent three hundred years ago, Africa was largely bursting its ancient seams with riches of life not found in any other land on earth. Even I who came on the scene so long after the antique lock was picked and the treasure largely plundered, can still catch my breath at the glimpses I get, from time to time, of the riches that remain’ (ibid. p.22). ‘He [the Bushman] built no home of any durable kind, did not cultivate the land, and did not even keep cattle or other domestic chattel’ (ibid. p.25). The Bushmen possessed an ‘astonishing gift of painting…I know one painting where a frightened herd of running eland is shown with such a gift of movement’ (ibid. pp.29, 31). ‘[E]ven his bitterest enemies were forced to reluctantly admit his immense courage’ (ibid. p.42). ‘Wounded and bleeding he fought to the last. Shot through one arm…the Bushman would instantly use his knee or foot to enable him to draw his bow with the uninjured one. If his last arrow was spent he still struggled as best he could until, finding the moment of his end had come, he would hasten to cover his head so that his enemies should not see the agony of dying expressed upon his face’ (ibid. p.45). [When you are still in touch with your soul you are in touch with such truth and awareness of another true world that, unlike the alienated, soul-destroyed and lost, you have something precious to hold on to and thus ‘immense courage’.] ‘One of the most moving aspects of life is how long the deepest memories stay with us. It is as if individual memory is enclosed in a greater which even in the night of our forgetfulness stands like an angel with folded wings ready, at the moment of acknowledged need, to guide us back to the lost spoor of our meanings’ (ibid. p.62). ‘I thought finally that of all the nostalgias that haunt the human heart the greatest of them all, for me, is an everlasting longing to bring what is youngest home to what is oldest, in us all’ (ibid. p.151). ‘You know I once saw a little Bushman imprisoned in one of our gaols because he killed a giant bustard which according to the police, was a crime…he was dying because he couldn’t bear being shut up and having his freedom of movement stopped…Physically the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with him but he died none the less!’ (ibid. p.236).
In his other great book about the Bushmen, The Heart of the Hunter (1961), Sir Laurens wrote that ‘mere contact with twentieth-century life seemed lethal to the Bushman. He was essentially so innocent and natural a person that he had only to come near us for a sort of radioactive fall-out from our unnatural world to produce a fatal leukaemia in his spirit’ (p.111 of 233). In The Heart of the Hunter Sir Laurens also wrote that ‘There was indeed a cruelly denied and neglected first child of life, a Bushman in each of us’ (p.126). And on the last page of The Heart of the Hunter: ‘All this became for me, on my long journey home by sea, an image of what is wanted in the spirit of man today. We live in a sunset hour of time. We need to recognize and develop that aspect of ourselves of which the moon bears the image. It is our own shy intuitions of renewal, which walk in our spiritual night as Porcupine walked by the light of the moon, that need helping on the way. It is as if I hear the wind bringing up behind me the voice of Mantis, the infinite in the small, calling from the stone age to an age of men with hearts of stone, commanding us with the authentic voice of eternal renewal: “You must henceforth be the moon. You must shine at night. By your shining shall you lighten the darkness until the sun rises again to light up all things for men”’ (p.233).
As is explained in , Bruce Chatwin’s comment that ‘the First man was also Christ’ (from his quote that ‘There is no contradiction between the Theory of Evolution and belief in God and His Son on earth. If Christ were the perfect instinctual specimen—and we have every reason to believe He was—He must be the Son of God. By the same token, the First Man was also Christ’ (What Am I Doing Here, 1989, p.65 of 367)), is reminiscent of Sir Laurens’s observation that ‘The pastor, Dominee Ferdie Weich, though much loved by the Bushmen, could report no permanent conversion to Christ in 21 years’ (Testament to the Bushmen, 1984, text accompanying photograph 91). The Bushmen, being Christ-like themselves in their innocence, weren’t in need of Christianity. They didn’t need a sound person to defer to, live through, be ‘born-again’ through as a result of being so upset they could no longer afford to trust in and live through themselves. They weren’t that upset. (Christ is explained in , as well as the role of religion in managing upset.) In his 1985 book Black Robe, the Northern Irish novelist Brian Moore recorded this revealing comment made by an American Indian to Jesuit missionaries in Canada about the comparative innocence of native people: ‘It is because you Normans are deaf and blind that you think this world is a world of darkness and the world of the dead is a world of light’ (p.184 of 256).
Elsewhere in his writings about the Bushmen, Sir Laurens wrote of ‘This shrill, brittle, self-important life of today is by comparison a graveyard where the living are dead and the dead are alive and talking [through our soul] in the still, small, clear voice of a love and trust in life that we have for the moment lost…[there was a time when] All on earth and in the universe were still members and family of the early race seeking comfort and warmth through the long, cold night before the dawning of individual consciousness in a togetherness which still gnaws like an unappeasable homesickness at the base of the human heart’ (Testament to the Bushmen, 1984, pp.127–128 of 176). Sir Laurens further recognised the battle between our original innocent instinctive self and our newer ‘individual consciousness’ when he wrote, ‘I spoke to you earlier on of this dark child of nature, this other primitive man within each one of us with whom we are at war in our spirit’ (The Dark Eye in Africa, 1955, p.154 of 159).
(Note, see for a collection of wonderful descriptions of this time in our species’ past when we lived in the state of innocent ‘togetherness’ that Sir Laurens has described. F. Essay 53 also has descriptions of other great thinkers who, like Sir Laurens, have recognised the ‘war’ we humans are now in with this past ‘primitive’ side of ourselves.)
Significantly, while Sir Laurens was able to clearly recognise the ‘war’ between our original, innocent, instinctive soulful ‘dark child of nature’ and our newer ‘individual conscious’ intellect or ‘spirit’ he wasn’t able to explain the reason for the ‘war’. His vision, as stated in my Dedication to him, was the ‘hope’ that by ‘reveal[ing]’ the ‘inner life’ of the ‘child’ in ‘man’ he ‘might start the first movement towards a reconciliation’—and that ‘hope’ of ‘reconciliation’ that, as I will now explain, his work contributed so greatly to is exactly what has been achieved in FREEDOM.
To write so honestly about humanity’s collective loss of innocence was Sir Laurens’s great inspiration and vision. It was an incalculably important contribution to the world because it brought light to an area of denial that was crippling the human race. Sir Laurens was a most beautiful writer, and what he did was a great trick. He produced these wonderfully written books about the Bushmen—and, as has been mentioned, even made a documentary about them that, at the time, attracted the biggest television audience next to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. People were fascinated by his ventures into the Kalahari Desert to find the remnants of the lost Bushmen, but through his books Sir Laurens also managed to thread in the truth about the relative innocence of the Bushmen and for someone like me who wasn’t living in a resigned state of fearful denial of the issue of the human condition, that truth was pure gold. (Read about the resigned state in .) However, not everyone failed to grasp the truth that Sir Laurens discreetly weaved through his books. For some people, hearing about the magic world of our soul was unbearable, and just as determined deniers of truth tried to destroy me for my honesty (See ’s explanation of the attacks on the work of Jeremy and of the WTM; also see Jeremy’s biography in ), so they tried to crucify Sir Laurens. After Sir Laurens’s death, the British journalist J.D.F. Jones (1939–2009) wrote a book that set out to denigrate Sir Laurens as a charlatan—which is a ridiculous accusation when it could not be more clear from his writings how sound and secure he was. Nevertheless, the attack was so incredibly vicious and completely unrestrained in its dishonesty and bias (as attacks on innocents have always been because upset people have feared exposure of their alienated state almost more than they feared death itself) that some people were persuaded by it. For example, a review of Jones’ book in Australia, titled ‘Charming Charlatan’, concluded with the assumption that ‘you might…be inclined to offer a wheelbarrow of his books to the nearest second-hand shop, or to junk them all’ (Luke Slattery, The Weekend Australian, 19–20 Jan. 2002). Jones’ deep allegiance to the world of denial is apparent in this emotionally charged comment he made in an interview: ‘the academic experts on the Kalahari [Bushmen] are absolutely berserk with rage about the things he [Sir Laurens] said, because, if you read The Lost World of the Kalahari, you must not believe that this is the truth about the Bushmen; it’s not’ (ABC Radio, Late Night Live, 25 Feb. 2002). In his book, Jones said that academics accused Sir Laurens of ‘a romantic and no doubt inaccurate portrait of this dying social group’ (J.D.F. Jones, Teller of Many Tales, 2002, p.230 of 528). What it was that Sir Laurens was saying about the Bushmen that made academic experts—and Jones—‘berserk with rage’ was that the Bushmen were a relatively innocent race. This was heresy for two reasons: firstly, what Sir Laurens was saying destroyed the contrived excuse that our ancestors were brutal savages (see & ); and secondly, it defied one of the main strategies of denial of not acknowledging the absolutely obvious truth of there being differences in alienation between individuals, races, genders, ages, generations, countries, civilisations and even cultures (see ).
The academic experts in universities have been the custodians of denial—we were not going to get any truth from them. In fact, Sir Laurens once complained about the refusal by ‘academic experts’ to study the life of the Bushmen: ‘It seemed a strange paradox that everywhere men and women were busy digging up old ruins and buried cities in order to discover more about ancient man, when all the time the ignored Bushman was living with this early spirit still intact. I found men willing enough to come with me to measure his head, or his behind, or his sexual organs, or his teeth. But when I pleaded with the head of a university in my own country to send a qualified young man to live with the Bushman for two or three years, to learn about him and his ancient way he exclaimed, surprised: “But what would be the use of that?”’ (The Lost World of the Kalahari, p.67). As explained in , mechanistic science has not been able to deal with the subjective, human condition dimension to life, as Professor Charles Birch (who was my professor of biology at Sydney University when I was a student there) acknowledged when he said, ‘Science can’t deal with subjectivity…what we were all taught in universities is pretty much a dead end’ ().
So the ‘academic experts’ were ‘berserk with rage’ with what Sir Laurens revealed about the Bushmen. The truth is Sir Laurens was persecuted because he was an extraordinarily honest, denial-free thinker or prophet—indeed, as mentioned earlier, in his full-page obituary in the London Times he was described as ‘a prophet out of Africa’. As also mentioned earlier, the former Prime Minister of Britain, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, recognised Sir Laurens’s extraordinary soundness when she described him as ‘the most perfect man I have ever met’. Throughout history denial-free thinkers or prophets, like John the Baptist and his protégé Christ, were often brutally persecuted, or, like John the Baptist and Christ, even killed for telling the truth. As the apostle Stephen asked rhetorically, ‘was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute’ (Acts 7:52). The great danger of such persecution was that while it protected upset humans from unbearable condemnation, it also thwarted the expression of truths needed to explain the human condition. In fact, as is explained in , & and also in , the real threat facing the human race was terminal levels of denial/alienation—a world where humans were walking around in such terrible truthless and meaningless, zombie-like darkness that they could never hope to find their way back to a world of liberating and relieving light/knowledge.
( present a more detailed description of how mechanistic science has tried to deny the relative innocence of the Bushmen, and, on a larger scale, the truth that our species once lived in a cooperative and loving state.)
I know how precious the truth Sir Laurens resurrected was because it was able to save my soul from extinction. Some time in my late teenage years, my mother, Jill Griffith, gave me a copy of a book by Sir Laurens (I think it was his 1952 book Venture to the Interior because I remember the zebras pictured on the cover) and it was this book, and then Sir Laurens’s two main books about the Bushmen, The Lost World of the Kalahari (1958) and The Heart of the Hunter (1961), which I sought out soon after reading the first book, that gave me the confirmation I needed that my very different unresigned, denial-free, unevasive way of thinking wasn’t some form of madness. As some evidence of how precious Sir Laurens’s writings have been to me, these original copies of The Lost World of the Kalahari and The Heart of the Hunter are now so tattered from use they are held together by lots of tape and some string.
Many times as a young man, especially when I was at a party, I couldn’t contain my complete bewilderment about everyone’s denial and pretence that there was nothing wrong with the world, in particular with human behaviour, and ended up protesting out aloud or running away through the night in tears of confusion. To the resigned, alienated person the reason for upset behaviour is self-evident but to the relatively innocent it is a complete mystery, made so much worse by the upset not acknowledging there was anything wrong with their behaviour, in fact pretending that they were completely happy with the way they and the rest of upset humanity were behaving. (See .) For example in 1973, when I was 28 years old and had just returned from the wilds of Tasmania where I had been searching for the possibly extinct Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine (which did turn out to be extinct—you can read more about my search at ), I remember being taken by my girlfriend at the time to a lavish dinner party attended by many of Sydney’s young socialites. I think it was Sydney’s annual Black and White Ball, or something like that. I remember I became so overwhelmed by the extravagance of the function and the artificiality and pretence of everyone that I ended up standing on my chair defiantly accusing everyone in the room of being fake and phony and totally indifferent to the epidemic of suffering in the world. I remember that following my outburst that there was a great silence in the room, then the men in particular turned their backs. My girlfriend then stood up and kindly put her arm around my shoulder and said out aloud so everyone could hear something like, ‘Jeremy, the world isn’t an ideal place but it’s all we have’ and persuaded me to sit down, after which everyone returned to their jovialities. On another occasion I remember going to a woolshed party (a woolshed is a big shed used for shearing sheep that offered lots of space for a band, dancing and a party) at Bowral, south of Sydney, and becoming so distressed by everyone’s silence about the artificiality of the world and pretence that the world was exactly as it should be, that I ended up running away through the bush for miles and miles until my arms were torn from running through the rough scrub. Eventually I collapsed in a heap on the ground in a state of exhausted distress before eventually walking all the way back to where my friends and I were staying at a residence near the party. I have always had many friends because I have always been outgoing and excited about the world, but when it came to trying to understand why the world wasn’t an authentic place, I was deeply perplexed and alone in that regard. In my late teens and twenties there were many occasions like the two just described. I know exactly why Christ in his extreme innocence as a youth frustratedly ‘overturned the tables of the money-changers’ in the temple (Matt. 21:12 & Mark 11:15) and later on angrily called the denial-practicing academics of his day ‘you, blind guides…you blind fools…you hypocrites…you snakes! You brood of vipers!’ (see Matt. 23:16–33). (Read more about Christ in .)
As mentioned above and as I have said before in this book (FREEDOM), to the resigned and alienated it is self-evident why the world is so false but to the relatively innocent it is a complete and utter mystery, and if the alienated won’t admit that they are living in denial, and in fact are pretending to be happy and content, then the mystery of what is going on is truly incredible. My mother once told me that when she was young she thought of joining a monastery and I understand now that that was because she was so innocent and naive that the false and superficial upset world was an almost overwhelming unbearable mystery for her also. The significance of an alienation-free, unresigned mother in producing an alienation-free, unresigned son is explained in more detail in about Christ, and it’s also explained in that is about Christ. Given how bewildering a mystery upset behaviour is for innocence it can be appreciated how immensely relieving it was for me to read Sir Laurens’s books. As I mentioned, his honesty virtually saved my life; better than that, it encouraged me to hold on to my unusual truthful way of thinking. I was variously being described by people as ‘hopelessly idealistic’, ‘quixotic’, ‘a dreamer’, ‘utopian’ and, more unkindly, as being ‘mad’, ‘idiotic’, ‘childish’, ‘pathetic’; and my ideas as being ‘offensive’ and ‘just plain wrong’. Later in my life I was regularly accused of practicing ‘bad science’, which I now know only too well is mechanistic science’s code words for science that doesn’t comply with its evasive, denial-complying etiquette. With the confirmation from Sir Laurens’s writing that I wasn’t mad I was able to go on thinking unevasively and eventually find my way to the humanity-liberating truth about the human condition. Sir Laurens played a crucial role in producing these liberating understandings of the human condition.
As a boy, Sir Laurens must have also suffered from total bewilderment about the silent, fraudulent, dishonest, deluded, pretentious, arrogant, artificial, superficial, escapist world of resigned upset humans and he must have found much needed reassurance and confirmation that the ideal world that he instinctively knew of was real from the Bushmen. Realising their importance to him he realised their importance to humanity in terms of bringing some real truth back into the world, and that was his vision, the contribution he could see that he should make. My innocence, my naivety, my soundness and the truth it has access to was so great that my vision was to be able to fully confront, think truthfully about and, by so doing, actually explain and liberate humanity from the human condition. ( describes my vision in some detail.)
On 30 January 1972, when I was 27 and still in the wilds of Tasmania trying to rediscover the Tasmanian Tiger I wrote a love letter, which I still have a copy of, to my then girlfriend in Sydney (the one who took me to the lavish party I mentioned earlier) that included these words: ‘Playing saying seeing dreaming you left me with a funny feeling! I won’t study so I will try and write to you. I feel like writing because it’s cloudy. There were a thousand wild horses out on that great plain and before them strode a boy and he was alone and hopelessly happy.’ Accompanying the letter was a drawing of thousands of galloping horses coming over the horizon towards the viewer with a small boy out in front leading them. I can understand now that this image of the horses and boy was a representation of my vision of my innocence being able to lead humanity home from its alienated state. In fact in every major document I have written I have included a phrase that has always summarised my vision, which is that ‘soon from one end of the horizon to the other will appear an army in its millions to do battle with human suffering and its weapon will be understanding’.
All my life whenever I have heard or read Australia’s most celebrated poem, Banjo Paterson’s 1895 The Man From Snowy River, emotion has overtaken me and tears come to my eyes. For a long time I didn’t understand why. Australia is a young civilisation but it has its mythologies with The Man From Snowy River at the centre of them—Banjo Paterson’s image and all the words to The Man From Snowy River, written in tiny text as they are, even features on our most used currency, Australia’s $10 note (see the previous for a more in-depth look at Australia’s mythology and role in the world). Mythologies only develop if they contain a resonating deep truth. Ostensibly the poem is about a great ride by mountain horsemen to recapture an escaped thoroughbred that joined the wild horses or brumbies in the mountain ranges but I now understand the poem is a recognition that it is in this relatively innocent country of Australia that the answers to the human condition would finally be found—it is a description of my vision, hence my emotional identification with it. The poem describes how eventually a ‘stripling’ boy (the embodiment of innocence) goes beyond where the rest of the horsemen (the alienated adults) dare go, and follows the brumbies down the ‘terrible descent’ of a steep mountain where (if you weren’t sound) ‘any slip was death’ (to confront the unconfrontable issue of the human condition) and recapture the thoroughbred from the impenetrable mountains (retrieve the escaped truth from the depths of denial). The poem describes how the boy ‘ran them [the brumbies] single-handed till their sides were white with foam / He followed like a bloodhound on their track / Till they halted, cowed and beaten—then he turned their heads for home / And alone and unassisted brought them back’ (he fought all the alienation and its denial that has been enslaving this world to a standstill until it finally gave up the truth). The story of David and Goliath is the same recognition of innocence eventually slaying the giant, the giant being our species’ alienated state of denial. In the great European legend of King Arthur, the wounded (alienated) king whose realm was devastated (humans unavoidably made their world an expression of their own madnesses) could only have his wound healed, and his realm restored, by the arrival in his kingdom of a simple, naive boy. In the legend the boy’s name is Parsifal, which, according to the legend, means ‘guileless fool’. To the alienated only a naive, ‘guileless’ fool would dare approach and grapple with the confronting truths about our divisive, corrupted condition. Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fable the Emperor’s New Clothes also contains the same resonating truth that it would take a small boy to break the spell of the denial that has captured humanity. While these other mythologies have recognised the truth about innocence leading humanity home from its lost state of alienation, they were not the central mythology of their civilisations like The Man From Snowy River has been in Australia’s mythology. Australia was where the great breakthrough would occur.
In my mid-twenties I also wrote this poem which clearly describes the excitement of the time of humanity’s liberation that my vision anticipated: ‘This is a story you see, just a story—but for you / Um—I remember a long time ago in the distant future a timeless day / a sunlit cloudless day when all things were fine / when we all slow-danced our way to breakfast in the sun // You see the day awoke with music / Can you imagine one thousand horses slow galloping towards you across a vast plain / and we loved that day so much / We all danced like Isadora Duncan through the morning light // We skipped and twirled and spun about / Fairies were there like dragonflies over a pool / Little girls with wings they hovered and flew about / their small voices you could hear / You see it was that kind of morning // When the afternoon arrived it was big and bold and beautiful / In worn out jeans and bouncing breasts we began / to fight—our way—into another day / into something new—to jive our way into the night / from sunshine into a thunderstorm // We all took our place, rank upon rank we came / as an army with Hendrix out in front / and the music busted the horizon into shreds / By God we broke the world apart / The pieces were of different colours and there were so many people / We danced in coloured dust, we left in sweat no room at all / We had a ball in gowns of grey and red / There were things that happened that nobody knew / Bigger and better, I had written on my sweater / Where there was sky there was music, huge clouds of it / and there were storms of gold with coloured lights / It was so good we cried tears into our eyes / In a tug of war of love we had no strength left at all / Dear God we cried but he only sighed and / whispered strength through leaves of laughter // On and on we came in bold ranks of silvered gold / to lead a world that didn’t know to somewhere it didn’t care / It couldn’t last, it had to end and yet it had an endless end / We were so happy in balloons of coloured bubbles that wouldn’t bust / and we couldn’t, couldn’t quench our lust / There we were all together for ever and ever / and tomorrow had better beware because / when we’ve wept and slept we will be there to shake its bloody neck.’
The imagery of an army of galloping horses that appeared in my 1972 letter to my girlfriend and in the drawing attached to it, and in my poem above, and in Banjo Paterson’s epic story, appears in many anticipations of the incredible excitement and rapidly gathering support the liberating and transforming understanding of the human condition will receive when it arrives.
In the Bible the prophets Joel and Isaiah described the same event using similar imagery. Joel said: ‘Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord [the liberating but at the same time all-exposing denial-free understanding of the human condition] is coming…Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come. Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them, a desert waste—nothing escapes them. They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry. With a noise like that of chariots…like a mighty army drawn up for battle. At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale. They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course. They do not jostle each other…For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble…“In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water…Their bloodguilt, which I have not pardoned, I will pardon [the dignifying understanding of humans’ corrupted state is finally found]”’ (Joel 2,3).
Isaiah said: ‘He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily! Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal thong is broken. Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. Their roar is like that of the lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no-one to rescue. In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, he will see darkness and distress; even the light will be darkened by the clouds’ (Isa. 5:26–30).
While it doesn’t contain the imagery of horses, the immensely popular 1993 song Holy Grail, written and sung by Mark Seymour of the Australian rock band Hunters and Collectors, represents another anticipation in Australia’s mythology of the arrival of the all-exciting and all-cleansing dignifying understanding of the human condition occurring in Australia: ‘Woke up this morning from the strangest dream / I was in the biggest army the world had ever seen / We were marching as one on the road to the Holy Grail // Started out seeking fortune and glory / It’s a short song but it’s a hell of a story / When you spend your lifetime trying to get your hands / on the Holy Grail // Well have you heard about the Great Crusade? / We ran into millions but nobody got paid / Yeah we razed four corners of the globe for the Holy Grail // All the locals scattered, they were hiding in the snow / We were so far from home, so how were we to know? / There’d be nothing left to plunder / When we stumbled on the Holy Grail // We were so full of beans but we were dying like flies / And those big black birds, they were circling in the sky / And you know what they say, yeah nobody deserves to die // Oh but I’ve been searching for an easy way / To escape the cold light of day [I’ve lived a life of resigned evasion] / I’ve been high and I’ve been low [suffered the consequences of recurring depression] / But I’ve got nowhere else to go / There’s nowhere else to go! // I followed orders, God knows where I’ve been / but I woke up alone, all my wounds were clean [our psychosis was cleared up] / I’m still here, I’m still a fool for the Holy Grail / I’m a fool for the Holy Grail.’ (see )
As mentioned, other powerful anticipations in Australian mythology of the emergence of understanding of the human condition in Australia are included in ; and they are also documented in my book FREEDOM in .
So while Sir Laurens was an exceptionally unresigned prophet (see about the process of Resignation, and about how prophets were sufficiently nurtured in their upbringing to avoid Resignation), the vision he had was to resurrect the truth of our species’ past innocent state and to do this he used the vehicle of the Bushman people as evidence for that lost innocent state. Again, while Sir Laurens was able to clearly recognise the ‘war’ between our original, innocent, instinctive soulful ‘dark child of nature’ and our newer ‘individual conscious’ intellect or ‘spirit’ he wasn’t able to explain the reason for the ‘war’. His vision, as stated in my Dedication to him, was the ‘hope’ that by ‘reveal[ing]’ the ‘inner life’ of the ‘child’ in ‘man’ he ‘might start the first movement towards a reconciliation’, and that ‘hope’ of ‘reconciliation’ that his work contributed is exactly what was achieved. The Bushmen looked after the soul and its truth in Sir Laurens, and Sir Laurens in turn looked after the soul and its truth in me, and in turn I am now using that soul and its truth to look after humanity, rescue it from the horror of alienated oblivion. Again, as Sir Laurens anticipated: ‘We live in a sunset hour of time. We need to recognize and develop that aspect of ourselves of which the moon bears the image. It is our own shy intuitions of renewal, which walk in our spiritual night as Porcupine walked by the light of the moon, that need helping on the way. It is as if I hear the wind bringing up behind me the voice of Mantis, the infinite in the small, calling from the stone age to an age of men with hearts of stone, commanding us with the authentic voice of eternal renewal: “You must henceforth be the moon. You must shine at night. By your shining shall you lighten the darkness until the sun rises again to light up all things for men”’ (The Heart of the Hunter, 1961, p.233 of 233).
Yes, as Sir Laurens described humanity’s situation where in ‘the midnight hour of the crashing darkness’ of the time we are now living in, we had to build ‘a bridge’ to ‘cross from one side to the other’ of ‘that split between night and day in ourselves’. He wrote: ‘We must shut our eyes and turn them inwards, we must look far down into that split between night and day in ourselves until our head reels with the depth of it, and then we must ask: ‘How can I bridge this self? How cross from one side to the other?’ If we then allow that question to become the desire for its own answer, and that desire to become a bridge across the chasm, then, and only then, from high above on this far peak of our conscious self, on this summit so far above the snow-line of time, in this cold, sharp, selected moment, clearly and distinctly we shall see a cross. A gulf bridged makes a cross; a split defeated is a cross. A longing for wholeness presupposes a cross, at the foundations of our being, in the heart of our quivering, throbbing, tender, lovely, lovelorn flesh and blood, and we carry it with us wherever we journey on, on unto all the dimensions of space, time, unfulfilled love, and Being-to-be. That is sign enough. After that the drum can cease from drumming, the beating and troubled heart have rest. In the midnight hour of the crashing darkness, on the other side of the night behind the cross of stars, noon is being born’ (Venture to the Interior, 1952, p.229 of 239). It could be that Sir Laurens was intuitively envisaging Australia as the place where the human condition would be solved when he talked of ‘noon’ being ‘born’ beneath the Southern Cross, which is the constellation that hangs over our night skies and forms the centrepiece of our Australian flag. I know Sir Laurens was very impressed with the soundness of the Australians he was held alongside as a prisoner of war, and that he knew of the exceptional isolation of Australia from all the upset in the world, and that he also appreciated Australia’s natural soulfulness—that Australia is like Africa where our species grew up—writing that ‘When I first went to Australia…my senses told me at once that here, beyond rational explanation, was a land physically akin to Africa’ (The Dark Eye in Africa, 1955, p.35 of 159). (Again, you can read about ‘Australia’s role in the world’ in .) His emphasis on ‘a cross’ being ‘sign enough’ also invokes the involvement of Christ in ‘saving the day’, and there is truth in that, in the sense that Christ was exceptionally sound and such innocent soundness is necessarily what was required to be able to ‘turn…inwards’ and ‘look far down into that split between night and day in ourselves until our head reels with the depth of it’, namely look into the human condition. As Sir Laurens has also written, ‘He who tries to go down into the labyrinthine pit of himself, to travel the swirling, misty netherlands below sea-level through which the harsh road to heaven and wholeness runs, is doomed to fail and never see the light where night joins day unless he goes out of love in search of love’ (The Face Beside the Fire, 1953, p.290 of 311). (see )
It will come as little surprise then that one of my most precious memories was when I met Sir Laurens in London in 1993 and was able to thank him personally for the assistance he had been to my work and life, which was when the above photograph was taken. I wrote to Sir Laurens on a number of occasions and treasure a 20 May 1988 response to my first book Free: The End Of The Human Condition which I had sent him where he said, ‘Could you please send me an extra copy of your book? Yours to me is already out on loan because it was so appreciated, and I shall give it to my publishers to read and see whether they are as interested as we are.’ His publishers didn’t show the interest Sir Laurens hoped for, and in fact all my books, which are about the human condition, have had to be published by our own organisation, the World Transformation Movement. Sir Laurens never stopped trying to help promote my books, writing to Tim Macartney-Snape on 15 August 1989 saying: ‘If I do not do more to help Jeremy Griffith it is simply that the weight and amount of my responsibilities prevent me, short of self-destruction.’ On 6 May 1993, three-and-a-half years before his death, Sir Laurens wrote to me saying, ‘I would hope you will always know how we value the examples you set and the work you are doing in Australia.’ Denial-free thinkers can recognise denial-free thinking but for everyone else they are an anathema.
As the quote from Sir Laurens used in my Dedication to him states, he hoped his work of acknowledging the relative innocence of the Bushmen would ‘start the first movement towards a reconciliation’. I only wish that Sir Laurens was still alive to tell him how successful his vision of starting such a movement was, but then again I know that he doesn’t really need to know that it was successful because his vision was so clear that he always knew it would be successful.
So it was certainly very appropriate that Sir Laurens’s full-page obituary was titled ‘A Prophet Out of Africa’.
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That completes the reproduction of Jeremy Griffith’s writing about Sir Laurens’s great vision.
In summary, John the Baptist was killed for his prophetic honesty, but his truthfulness ‘prepared your [Christ’s] way’ (Matt. 11:10), before Christ was also killed because of his honesty (see ), and he was the person Christ took great inspiration from (see Matt. 11:9–15). We can now see that Sir Laurens van der Post was, as mentioned earlier, also effectively murdered for his great honesty, and he similarly prepared the way for Jeremy’s great honesty and eventual contribution to humanity of the explanation of the human condition, an honesty that similarly led to the attempted ‘crucifixion’ of Jeremy during the 1990s (see ’s explanation for the attacks on Jeremy and the WTM; and see Jeremy’s biography in ; or go to ).
While in the more upset and thus insecure times we live in today only the great denial-complying mechanistic thinkers like E.O. Wilson are recognised and lauded, the truth is that all the critically important steps in the human journey from ignorance to enlightenment have depended on the contributions made by the exceptional denial-free thinkers or prophets. As is explained in , Abraham contributed the precious foundations of the, until now, only truly effective way of relieving yourself of your overly corrupted condition, which was through living in support of a religion (see & ), with Abraham’s emphasis on monotheism, the need to revere the fundamental truth about our existence of there being one true ‘God’, which we can now acknowledge is Integrative Meaning (see ). Through his Ten Commandments Moses gave humanity the most effective form of Imposed Discipline for containing the ever-increasing levels of upset in humans (see ). And that other great denial-free thinking prophet, Plato gave philosophy—the actual business of studying ‘the truths underlying all reality’, in particular studying and finding the all-important understanding of the human condition—the best possible orientation and assistance (see ). And Christ, with the inspirational help of John the Baptist, gave humanity the soundest and thus most effective corruption-and-denial-countering religion (see ). And Griffith, with the inspirational help of Sir Laurens van der Post, has synthesised the human-race-liberating-and-transforming explanation of the human condition (see ).
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The unresigned, human-condition-confronting-not-avoiding,
authentic prophet look
An addition by WTM founding member Genevieve Salter
(the underlinings throughout are her emphasis)
My name is Genevieve Salter and I am one of the WTM founding members. Over the years I have been collecting and compiling Jeremy’s drawings and artwork (much of which appears in an extensive piece on the WTM’s website at ), as well as other significant memorabilia that document the amazing breadth of Jeremy’s extraordinarily full, vibrant, energetic, selfless and profoundly meaningful unresigned life. What has often struck me in this process is how similar Jeremy’s facial expression is to that of Sir Laurens van der Post’s, which you can clearly see in the photos included below. It is an authentic and honest look. Their faces convey a kind of pained expression because they are so aware of, and feeling for, and empathetic with, the true agony of life that humans are leading. It is entirely unlike the manufactured, let’s-pretend-everything’s-fine-and-I’m-a-winner, deluded expression that the faces of resigned humans typically project. Artists have always sought to portray what the faces of our treasured prophets would have looked like, but I think here we can answer that question, because we can clearly see the unresigned, human-condition-confronting-not-avoiding, truthful, authentic prophet look in Sir Laurens’s and Jeremy’s facial expression.
The actor Gary Cooper’s facial expression, such as in the following photo of him in his role as Marshal Will Kane in the 1952 film High Noon, also has this grim, denial-free expression as if he has taken on the horror of the world completely honestly, leaving him with a bitter taste in his mouth, but still committed to putting an end to all the suffering. The actor John Barrymore said of Cooper that his ‘appeal and charismatic presence are rooted in his looking the way we feel a man should look’ (Bill Collins, ‘My Top Ten Gods of the Screen’, Daily Mirror, 17 Jun. 1981) and in an obituary for Cooper written by Alistair Cooke, The Guardian’s chief US correspondent and broadcaster of the BBC radio series, Letter From America, he described Cooper as the ‘archetype of the Hemingway hero…who dispenses justice with a worried conscience. He represented every man’s best secret image of himself: the honourable man slicing clean through the rolling world of morals and machines…an untainted strain of goodness in a very male specimen of the male of the species’ ().
So this really is the way ‘a man should [and does] look’ when he is still grappling with the horror of human life as the rest of the world carries on living in deluded, destructive denial. The wonder is that Jeremy has succeeded in finding the understanding of the human condition that explains and defends our divisive behaviour and puts an end to our suffering and destruction, but he certainly does wear the burden of it in his expression. In , Jeremy recounts a passage from J.D. Salinger’s wonderful 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye where an adult says to Salinger’s unresigned adolescent, the 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, that ‘you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior’ (p.170). Jeremy notes that to be ‘confused and frightened’ to the point of being ‘sickened by human behavior’—indeed, to be ‘suicid[ally]’ ‘depressed’ by it if you’re not sound enough to deeply grapple with it as van der Post was [and Jeremy is]—is the effect the human condition has if you haven’t resigned yourself to living a relieving but utterly dishonest and superficial life in denial of it.
In Jeremy talks about Christ expressing his horror at the extent of the corruption in humans when he said, ‘I stood in the midst of the world and…found all men drunken [behaving in a mad way]…And my soul grieves over the sons of men, because they are blind in their heart, and see not [alienated from the truth of their horrifically corrupted condition]’ (Gospel of Thomas, saying 28). (This is the same soul-sensitive insight the great prophet Plato had when he described resigned, ‘cave’-dwelling humans as being ‘fuddled [drunk]’ and unable ‘to see clearly’.) Jeremy goes on to explain that Christ’s incredible unresigned empathy with human suffering is what led him to realise that he needed to create a religion around his soundness for people to defer to and live through (again, see F. Essay 39).
In the case of Moses, also in F. Essay 39, Jeremy talks about his absolutely desperate need to do something about all the suffering his sensitivity allowed him to see in the world. And so, as is recorded in Exodus in the Bible, after having led his people, the enslaved Israelites, out of bondage to freedom in the ‘Promised Land’, he established the ground rules—his Ten Commandments—for living in an overly upset world.
As for Jeremy, his motivation has always been to stop the suffering on the planet as this phrase, which as it says in the above essay about van der Post, he has used in every major document he has written in the 40 years since he started writing about the human condition, perfectly expresses: ‘Soon from one end of the horizon to the other will appear an army in its millions to do battle with human suffering and its weapon will be understanding’. This is why the WTM was established so that others can selflessly participate in Jeremy’s unshakeable vision by living in support of his world-saving insights.
The first photograph of Jeremy above, taken in 2018, shows him standing in front of a giant Banyan tree and I thought it was fitting to include the following extract from Jeremy’s first book written in 1988, exactly 30 years earlier that shows his unwavering commitment to ending human suffering: ‘Because of our insecurity we have preferred that no one “rock the boat”—that all that is said in this book not be said—that no one be made to feel awkward and uncomfortable. But what is said in this book had to be said. Someone had to stand up perfectly straight, walk right down the middle, resolve the upset, set us free (overturn our evasions, break the silence, let the light in upon our preferred darkness) and stop the terrible suffering of people and wildlife and the earth itself that is going on everywhere almost unacknowledged. (Another way of saying this is that someone had to go off and sit down quietly under the Banyan/thinking tree for a few years, carefully think it all out from the beginning and then come back and tell us the answers that we have come to need but have not had the time or inclination to think about)’ (p.216 of print edition).
There are many, many examples but the following two illustrate the motivation and vision that you see in the photographs of Jeremy. In a candid conversation with a friend in 1989 he said this to try to explain his motivation: ‘Well, I can’t let go of the vision of the flowers and the trees and the animals and suffering people that easily. I can’t put them away and so, I’ll tell you how my love works. When I think about it I have the option. I can go and play old world games. I now call it, ‘play games’ just distract ourselves, entertain ourselves. But I tell you what, every time that option comes up, and all through my life it’s made a difference, I actually know another world that’s free of all the bullshit and there is no comparison. The other rates nothing compared to this new world and there’s just no contest. Every time I see it I say, look, I’m not interested. I would rather go and work on the book. I can see the way out. That old world has no attraction for me and so every time that option comes I just go to the new world. I say, I don’t want to spend one minute longer in the old world. I can still see that other world and I know how happy and exciting a place it is and I only want that and that other world doesn’t seduce me at all. It cannot touch me. It never has any influence. So I’m not driven, I’m not manic about this other world. It’s just the options are clear to me. I want all people to see that, I don’t want them suffering.’
And in a 2012 letter Jeremy described his vision thus: ‘I live for a true world, and fight for it every minute of the day—as you have learnt from being around me. I lift myself and go there—to the true world—and I won’t back down, I won’t give in to this false world, because it is false, it’s wrong. All the wrongness in this world has to be stood up to by someone, all the suffering HAS TO BE FIXED. I live that all the time, I will not cave into the crap—I fight to stop the pain on Earth.’
Jeremy often refers to the metaphoric ‘Board of Directors’ he is accountable to in every decision he makes. So to end this explanation of the way a prophet looks I wanted to include this quote from Isaiah in the Bible which sums up the burden of responsibility that comes with a vision of ‘do[ing] battle with human suffering’, a responsibility Jeremy lives with every minute of every day and night to the point of self-destruction: ‘In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth…to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness [reflecting again Plato’s description of resigned humans ‘imprisoned’ in a dark ‘cave’ of denial]’ (Isa. 42:4,7).
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You can read more on Jeremy Griffith’s breakthrough redeeming explanation of the human condition in . Also, as mentioned, see for a collection of wonderful descriptions of our time of innocence in our species’ past, and for descriptions of other great thinkers who, like Sir Laurens, have recognised the instinct vs intellect elements involved in our present human condition.
Discussion or comment on this essay is welcomed—see below.
These essays were created in 2017-2021 by Jeremy Griffith, Damon Isherwood, Fiona
Cullen-Ward, Brony FitzGerald & Lee Jones of the Sydney WTM Centre. All filming and
editing of the videos was carried out by Sydney WTM members James Press & Tess Watson
during 2017-2021. Other members of the Sydney WTM Centre are responsible for the
distribution and marketing of the videos/essays, and for providing subscriber support.