In the last few pages of The Devils of Loudun (1952), Aldous Huxley shares thoughts regarding optimal ways to work toward advancement of human consciousness, within the context of spiritual pursuits.
He also lists the sources he used in writing his overview of the “diabolic drama,” as Huxley terms it, in which a pastor of Loudun in France was burned at the stake.
This book is well worth reading with the exception of Huxley’s views regarding Indigenous peoples. The author’s views regarding the world’s Indigenous peoples are unfortunately typical of objectionable Western colonialist views characteristic of Huxley’s era.
That said, I also find Huxley’s views, concerning how the pursuit of religious or political “truths” can at times lead to lethal results, of much interest.
Attitudes toward Indigenous peoples are – most fortunately – these days changing for the better.
I am impressed with Huxley’s command of the reader’s attention. In particular, I am impressed (much of the time, except when he speaks of Indigenous peoples) with his voice as a writer – that is, with the tone that is communicated between the lines.
I am also impressed with Huxley’s capacity to seamlessly weave thoughtful and incisive commentary into his narrative – for example, with regard to Stalinism and Nazism – as he recounts the history of an instance of so-called demonic possession in Loudun.
A close study of The Devils of Loudun can help a person to better understand many events in history.
Huxley was a highly accomplished professional writer, who was not a professional academic. He excelled at a particular kind of generally high-quality writing, which reached a wide audience.
In that regard, another writer – equally a person with a strong voice and capacity to command a reader’s attention – who comes to mind is Jane Jacobs. She was another first-rate professional writer, who was not a professional academic.
Huxley speaks at length, at various points in his study, about issues related to intensive spiritual pursuits – about standard topics, that is, widely covered in the vast literature that is available related to consciousness, altered states of consciousness, attempts to achieve enlightenment by various means, and the like. My own views on such topics are addressed at previous posts including:
Quotation from pp. 374-376 from The Devils of Loudun (1952)
Aldous Huxley writes (pp. 374-376; I have broken the longer text into shorter paragraphs, for ease in online reading):
On the subject of horizontal self-transcendence very little need be said – not because the phenomenon is unimportant (far from it), but because it is too obvious to require analysis and of occurrence too frequent to be readily classifiable.
In order to escape from the horrors of insulated selfhood most men and women choose, most of the time, to go neither up nor down, but sideways. They identify themselves with some cause wider than their own immediate interests, but not degradingly lower and, if higher, higher only within the range of current social values.
This horizontal, or nearly horizontal, self-transcendence may be into something as trivial as a hobby, or as precious as married love. It can be brought about through self-identification with any human activity, from running a business to research in nuclear physics, from composing music to collecting stamps, from campaigning for political office to educating children or studying the mating habits of birds.
Horizontal self-transcendence is of the utmost importance. Without it, there would be no art, no science, no law, no philosophy, indeed no civilization. And there would also be no war, no odium theologicum or ideologicum, no systematic intolerance, no persecution.
These great goods and these enormous evils are the fruits of man’s capacity for total and continuous self-identification with an idea, a feeling, a cause.
How can we have the good without the evil, a high civilization without saturation bombing or the extermination of religious and political heretics? The answer is that we cannot have it so long as our self-transcendence remains merely horizontal.
When we identify ourselves with an idea or a cause we are in fact worshipping something homemade, something partial and parochial, something that, however noble, is yet all too human. “Patriotism,” as a great patriot concluded on the eve of her execution by her country’s enemies, “is not enough.” Neither is socialism, nor communism, nor capitalism; neither is art, nor science, nor public order, nor any given religion or church. All these are indispensable, but none of them is enough.
Civilization demands from the individual devoted self-identification with the highest of human causes: But if this self-identification with what is human is not accompanied by a conscious and consistent effort to achieve upward self-transcendence into the universal life of the Spirit, the goods achieved will always be mingled with counterbalancing evils.
“We make,” wrote Pascal, “an idol of truth itself; for truth without charity is not God, but His image and idol, which we must neither love nor worship.” And it is not merely wrong to worship an idol; it is also exceedingly inexpedient.
The worship of truth apart from charity – self-identification with science unaccompanied by self-identification with the Ground of all being – results in the kind of situation which now confronts us. Every idol, however exalted, turns out, in the long run, to be a Moloch, hungry for human sacrifice.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. In writing this history of Grandier, Surin, Soeur Jeanne and the devils I have made use of the following sources:
Histoire des Diables le Loudun (Amsterdam, 1693). This work, by the Protestant Pastor Aubin, is a very well-documented account of Grandier’s trial and the subsequent possession. The author was an inhabitant of Loudun and acquainted with many of the actors in the diabolic drama.
Urbain Grandier in La Sorciere. By Jules Michelet. The great historian’s essay is brief and inaccurate, but extremely lively.
Urbain Grandier et les Possedees de Loudun. By Dr. Gabriel Legue (Paris, 1880). A very thorough book. The same author’s earlier work, Documents pour servir a l’histoire medicate des possedees de Loudun (Paris, 1876) is also valuable.
Relation. By Fr. Tranquille. First published in 1634. Reprinted in Vol. II of Archives Curieuses de l’ Histoire de France (1838).
The History of the Devils of Loudun. By de Nion. Published at Poitiers in 1634, and printed in translation at Edinburgh, 1887-88. Lauderdale’s account of his visit to Loudun appears as a supplement to this narrative
Letter. By Thomas Killigrew. Published in the European Magazine (February, 1803).
Bayle’s Historical Dictionary (English edition, 1736,. Article on Urbain Grandier.
Soeur Jeanne des Anges, Autobiographie d’une hysterique possedee. Edited, with introduction and notes, by Drs. Gabriel Legue and Gilles de la Tourette (Paris, 1886). This is the only edition of the narrative composed by the Prioress in 1644. The autobiography is followed by numerous letters addressed by Soeur Jeanne to Fr. Saint-Jure, S.J.
Science Experimentale. By Jean-Joseph Surin (1828). This is a somewhat garbled edition of Surin’s account of his stay at Loudun.
Lettres Spirituelles du P. Jean-Joseph Surin. Edited by L. Michel and F. Cavallera (Toulouse, 1926). Vol. II contains a reliable text of what the editors call the Autobiography of Surin.
Dialogues Spirituels. By Jean-Joseph Surin (Lyon, 1831).
Le Catichisme Spirituel. By Jean-Joseph Surin (Lyon, 1856).
Fondements de la Vie Spirituelle. By Jean-Joseph Surin (Paris,
Questions sur l’ Amour de Dieu. By Jean-Joseph Surin. Edited, with valuable introduction, notes and appendices, by A. Pottier and L. Maries (Paris, 1930).
Le Pere Louis Lallemant et les grands spirituels de son temps. By Aloys Pottier, S.J. (Paris, 1930. 2 vols.)
La Doctrine Spirituelle du P. Louis Lallemant. By Pierre Champion. First published in 1694. The best modern edition is that of 1924.
Histoire Litteraire du Sentiment Religieux en France. By Henri Bremond (Paris, 1916 and subsequent years). Contains excellent chapters on Lallemant and Surin.
[End of excerpt]
Please note that in the bibliography, I’ve left out the French accents. I trust, however, that if you wish to track down any of these texts, you can find them.