It is one of the most familiar and reassuring lines in scripture: “The Lord is my shepherd.” But when you think about it, the metaphor is a disturbing one.
It’s true that a shepherd looks after his sheep. But he also shears them and kills them and eats them. Does the God we adore act totally with our best interests at heart, or are we a species of livestock that he uses for his own ends?
Voices have occasionally uttered doubt, not about the existence of the gods, but about their beneficence. The ancient Gnostics said that the real god of this world was the Demiurge, a second-order being who mistook himself for the true God. The spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff told a parable about a lazy shepherd who got tired of having his sheep run off, so he hypnotised them into thinking they were men or lions. Then they no longer ran off but stayed around so that he could shear or kill them as he liked. (Again we encounter a shepherd, this one more explicitly malevolent.)
Gurdjieff does not say who this shepherd is. His main point is that man, in his state of waking sleep, is at the mercy of forces that may well not have his best interests at heart – forces that will extract energy from him regardless of his wishes.
This parable is from an early period of Gurdjieff’s teaching; in his later period, epitomised in his magnum opus All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, he portrayed the universe in a more beneficent light. But there are plenty of others who have cast doubts on the motives of the spiritual powers that control our lives.
One of the weirdest is found in a book called War in Heaven by Kyle Griffith. Originally it appeared in 1988. It has never been published in a conventional sense; I first read it years ago when I was editor of the esoteric journal Gnosis and there was a spiral-bound copy lying around the office. Today it can be downloaded for free, here.
Comparatively little is known about Griffith himself. From my sources, I gather that he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1980s, the time when he put his book together. He has been featured in an Internet interview, here, and there is a discussion group devoted to his ideas, here.
From a certain point of view, War in Heaven may look mad; from another, it is strangely compelling. I have read it three times over the years. While I’m not prepared to take its claims at face value, I find them both haunting and disturbing.
Griffith’s vision allegedly derives from his telepathic communication with some spirits who say they are associated with the Invisible College. This was the name of a seventeenth century English coterie that was devoted to esotericism, philosophy, and the nascent discipline of science; it is usually seen as a precursor to the Royal Society. Unlike the scientifically minded gentlemen of Britain, the Invisible College of Griffith’s vision consists of disembodied spirits who claim to have inspired the Rosicrucian and Freemasonic movements of the early modern era; more recently, they were behind the civil-rights movement in America and the psychedelic revolution of the same period.
All of these movements were designed with one end in mind: to break the hold of the Theocrats.
The Theocrats, in the cosmology of War in Heaven, are parasitic astral entities who devour the souls of the recently deceased. The normal course of the soul’s evolution involves repeated reincarnations on earth. But these incarnations, as we well know, can be extremely unpleasant at times. The Theocrats have avoided this disagreeable option by maintaining a semiperpetual existence on the astral plane, fed by the souls they eat. Their strategy is simple. When a naïve soul has died, they greet it on the other side by proffering illusory welcomes into a fake heaven, populated with familiar religious figures and loved ones. When the soul has strayed into their trap, it is devoured…