Ecstasy and Divine Madness

Every once in a while a phrase creeps in and takes root in your experience. It starts slowly, almost imperceptibly, a few chance occurrences that barely catch your notice. But over the next few weeks, it pops up again and again until you can’t help but think that maybe there’s something more to understand.

Jack Gaughan, 1963

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a video about James Hampton and his incredible work, the Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly. I was astonished that most of the materials available on his work are strictly academic, combing through his materials and technique with little to no concern for his experience or intention, of which there is clearly much to explore. Instead, this incredible piece is filed away as Outsider Art, valued solely as material entirely removed from its creator’s inspiration. Try as I might, I could find no sources on the Ecstacy of the man who called himself Saint James in his own cryptic work of Revelation–and that was the story I really wanted.

“Saint” James Hampton’s Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly

In my vast collection of unread books, there was one titled “the Divine Madness of Philip K Dick,” an analysis of his personal visions and subjective reality through the eyes of a clinical psychiatrist. I know so many would-be writers and pop culture fanatics who worship at the altar of PKD, but I’ll admit that I never fell for his work–it’s the man I find fascinating, the personal experience of a fluid universe that makes me crave more. When I finally took the book from my shelf and began to read, I realized what it is that magnetizes me to these accounts: it’s the perfect communication with the creative daimon, the personal genius.

Somewhere in my childhood I came upon an account of the writing process as told by Percy Bysshe Shelley, though for the life of me I cannot find it again. He explained that his poetry was not his own but instead came to him from a higher voice, some form of divine communication. In fact, the very word “inspiration” derives from the word for “breath,” implying that creative work begins as a whisper from the heavens.

This is the communication that all free-minded people crave, the goal of years of meditation, ceremonial practice, reading and unraveling symbolism. And yet, for some, the breath of the divine is as natural as their own. They’re creative Ecstatics, Saints of Altered Experience. Their visions change and shape our world–and yet so often, we reduce them to cases of fractured materialism. They have achieved what so many of us strive for–direct communion with the divine, integration with their highest self–and yet we set them apart as objects of study and cautionary tales.

The more I learn about figures like these, so obviously touched by Genius in its most pure and literal form, the more I feel we simply cannot quantify divinity. Analysis always removes wonder. It damages the Aura more than any mechanical reproduction ever could. We remove ourselves from the ability to feel, to empathize, to experience through constant material reduction. And as we move into a new year–truly a new era–I hope to embrace more of the spirit of genius myself, to invite Divine Madness into my life and allow myself to communicate directly with purpose and intention.

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