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Jean Houston and The Mystery School

"As we encounter the archetypal world within us, a partnership is formed whereby we grow as do the gods and goddesses within us." --Jean Houston

"She sees through those who are charletans [sic] and hucksters, ripping people off with New Age drivel or playing on fear instead of engaging in loving play." --The Hon. William R. Bryant, Jr., Republican Leader Emeritus, Michigan House of Representatives

"We only have these times we're living in." --Kate Wolf

Dr. Jean Houston's Mystery School is another in a long line of New Age self-help or personality transforming programs. According to Dr. Houston, "the purpose of the Mystery School is to engender the passion for the "possible" in our human and global development while discovering ways of transcending and transforming the local self so that extraordinary life can arise!" Her premise is that we are all unhappy because we have suffered and have not achieved our full potential. Here is an excerpt from Houston's Mystery School Lecture One:

Regardless of how difficult and estranged your life may have been, you've done that one. You've done estrangement. You've learned from it. You've done difficulty. You've even done derangement probably. You've done angst and anxiety and existential dread. You've done toxic mayhem. Yes? You've done breakdown. Now it's time to try the next level.

You've had all this suffering. Great! It has given you a wealth and depth of experience and compassion, if you frame it that way. If you don't frame it that way, then all you've got is galloping angst.

Your energies, your powers, your stamina, your moral force seem limited only because you and your habituations and the habituations and expectations of your culture set limits. Therefore, what Mystery School tries to do here, is to go beyond the limits and create a consensual reality in which the horizon of the limits is greatly expandable and More becomes possible. (Note: this lecture used to be available free online; you may now order it for $140 from JeanHouston.org)

The lecture only gives a glimpse of what is in store for the disciple on the road to self-transformation. On her hook is some common New Age bait: the pain, suffering and dissatisfaction with life that needs to be relieved. Houston tells her listeners: "You've been wounded up the gazoo. I always say - 'You're so full of holes from being so wounded, you're holy.' You're utterly available now." She speaks again and again to the pain and suffering of her audience, of their dissatisfaction with their lives. She tells them that this is necessary for the transformation, that out of the evil she will bring good. Hers is the true way to the New Resurrection.

As New Age self-realization plans go, the Mystery School must seem a bargain. On the WWW for only about $200 you can get the lessons, which include nine "sessions" of edited transcripts of the Mystery School. Each written lesson promises to be the length of a small book. In effect, you are paying about $22 a pop for chapters of a work in progress.

Here is Jean's own blurb on her Mystery School

It is my 20th Century version of an ancient and honorable tradition, the study of the world's spiritual mysteries. Once upon a time there were such schools in Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Afghanistan, Ireland, England, France, Hawaii, India, China, Japan and many other places on the globe. We harvest what is available (or can be imagined) of the knowledge and traditions, rites and rituals of these ancient studies, imbuing them with new realities and applications in order to live more freely and more fully.

Mystery School is intellectually vigorous, psychologically challenging and spiritually demanding . . . It is celebrational and transformational. It is also frequently hilarious and zanily satiric.

Mystery School is both experiential and experimental. I weave together the things I love most: sacred psychology, music, history, theatre, cultural wisdom, science (fact, fiction and fantasy), neurophysiology, philosophy, anthropology, theology, poetry, laughter, cosmology, metaphysics and innovative ideas to provide a multi-faceted, multi-level Time out of time.

Exercises include psychophysical work, psychospiritual exploration, creative arts, energy resonance, movement and dance, altered states of consciousness, ritual and ceremony, high drama, high play and mutual empowerment.

She claims that her school is part of a tradition that has probably existed ever "since humans have been humans." This claim seems to imply that the mystery schools have made very little progress. There is ample evidence she is correct about that. The reason for this is obvious: mystery schools don't exist to discover the mysteries of life, but to encourage belief that life is a mystery. The only thing they transform is the mind, not by providing a better understanding of reality but by encouraging people to create their own reality. Mystics are warriors against the world and their weapons are the weapons of the imagination. They are enemies of reality. Rather than engage the world they despise, rather than try to change the world, they withdraw from the world and turn the world into an idea and they play with that idea until the game is to their liking.

According to Houston, "The traditional question of all Mystery Schools is - How do you place the local self, your local historical self, in the service of the Self? How do you place it in the psyche where the Immanent God resides? How do you respond to the Lure of Becoming and keep up sufficient energy, passion, momentum, delight, engagement, fascination, that you agree to be constantly lured? Unfortunately the stuff of everyday life often inhibits the Lure." In short, how do you become one with a god and how do you avoid the snares distracting you from this divine union? There's nothing new here in terms of goals. The goal is the goal of all ecstatic mysticism: how to escape the world into transcendent glory.

Still, one wonders why, if all the schools she mentioned have failed to get beyond the beginning of comprehension, what makes her think her school will be any better? She may be right in saying that her Mystery School is intellectually vigorous. Maybe it's even more intellectually vigorous than the ancient schools of Egypt, Greece, etc. But what superior methods, what New Age weapons, has Jean Houston got that will at last allow deliverance to those lured by the desire to transcend all that they can be? How will she succeed where so many others have failed to unlock the secrets of the universe and provide a sure path for those who are so full of potential, who are striving so hard to burst forth and transform into something wonderful, something great, something celebrational, transformational, empowered? The only way to find out for sure is to pay your money and go to school. In the meantime, we can inquire into the history and mythos of Dr. Houston herself.

Jean Houston would probably be just another successful New Age motivator had not Bob Woodward in The Choice let the world know that she met with Hillary and Bill Clinton, and that Hillary had imaginary "conversations" with Eleanor Roosevelt and Mohandas Ghandi. Woodward also notes that in the past Houston had been known to use LSD and hypnosis to help her clients converse with the great personages of the past. However, neither drugs nor hypnosis were used with the Clintons, according to Woodward.

There is nothing particularly weird about imaginary conversations with the dead (or with the living, for that matter). In fact, such a practice could be beneficial, if not enlightening. Steve Allen did a wonderful book and television series where he brought together for conversation groups of four historical persons from different eras. Many of the best writers and thinkers who have ever lived have had many imaginary conversations with dead people. It is a wonderful way to explore ideas, to vivify notions, to think.

It seems unfair to compare Hillary Clinton with Nancy Reagan, as some in the media have done, comparing Houston to the psychics and astrologers the Reagans consulted. Houston is no astrologer. Nor does she claim to be psychic, yet that is how Newsweek, the Sacramento Bee and the CBS evening news referred to her. An AP story ambiguously referred to her as a "psychic researcher."

Jean Houston is a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from Columbia University, according to Newsweek (July 1, 1996). According to the Washington Post, she has a Ph.D. in psychology. In an interview with Stone Phillips of NBC's Dateline she claimed to have several doctorates but was most proud of the one in psychology from Union Graduate School. Off camera she admitted that this is really the only doctorate she has. She said she made a mistake and blamed it on something like overwork or stress, but it seems obvious that she lied. She might forget how many doctors she has, but not how many doctorates. How much of her biography is lie? or "mythos," as she might call it? Was she really chums with Einstein and Teilhard de Chardin? Was she really Margaret Mead's adopted daughter? Did she really meet and get the inspiration for her primary teaching method from Edgar Bergan and Charlie McCarthy when she was eight years old? It should not surprise anyone if it turns out that Jean Houston's autobiography is a piece of fiction, a heroic myth spun by her imagination out of the fabric of her desires. She is one of the New Age philosophers for whom "deep" truth is something you create. In fact, she sounds like the perfect political advisor! She expressed her concern to Phillips that she would lose business because of the bad press. I doubt it. If anything, her business will probably expand exponentially and demands for her mystic presence will most likely come to exceed even her Athenic potentiality. The only thing that might hurt her is her lying. Americans will tolerate lying for a god and country, or about sex, but are a bit harder on those who lie for greed or self-aggrandizement. If, indeed, it turns out that Jean Houston is a congenital liar, there will be the inevitable cynics who will claim that Bill or Hillary is Jean's guru, not the other way around. They would be wrong, of course.

In any case, Houston is certainly a prolific author. She is also past-president of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, director of the Human Capacities Training Program, and ran The Foundation for Mind Research out of Pomona, New York, where she and her husband, Robert Masters, tested the ESP of subjects under the influence of LSD or psilocybin. Houston is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Mind and Behavior. She offers distance learning courses through the Entelechy Institute. The titles of some of her books reveal something of the author:

The Hero and the Goddess
The Possible Human
Odyssey of the Soul
The Search for the Beloved: Journeys in Sacred Psychology
Listening to the Body (co-authored with Robert Masters)
The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience (co-authored with Robert Masters)
Psychedelic Art (co-authored with Robert Masters)

In her books and lectures she frequently aligns herself with the Great Traditions. "In all the great traditions - Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Sufi, Jewish - it's all about waking up. Mystery School is essentially about the wake up call from Central and putting you not in attunement with it, but in alignment with it. You can always tune, but alignment is forever." This distinction between a tune up and an alignment may seem profound in context, but out of context it is obviously false. Alignments are no more forever than tune ups are. You can go out of alignment as easily as going out of tune. She calls fundamentalists "Fundi's" and she likes metaphors that have proven successful in similar eclectic transformational endeavors by L. Ron Hubbard, Richard Bandler, Werner Erhard, Frederick Lenz and Tony Robbins. For example, she says that her Mystery School "provides practices which have the effect of both rewiring your brain, body and nervous system, and eliciting the evolutionary latencies in your physical instrument. These latencies have been there like a fetal coding for perhaps tens of thousands of years, but could not be activated until various aspects of complexity emerged, joined to crisis. We find that emergence generally only occurs in emergencies. It's only when you really have to survive that you really turn on enough mindfulness and wakefulness to activate these different latencies."

What Jean Houston has done is create her own mythos. She has probably gotten enough communal reinforcement to encourage her to believe in the reality of her mythos. Like so many others in New Age movements, she seems to find the distinction between myth and reality a hindrance to the truth. For their view of truth is entirely subjective: truth is whatever you want it to be.

You . . . are probably at this point every race that ever was, as well as every species, as we know from the development of the brain that contains most of the species coded in us. . . .

Once you start living out of that Depth Life, you're living a Mythic Life and life gets very juicy!

"Body/Being/Blissing. Bodying/Blissing/Beingness. You are in it. You are in the utter Suchness of it, and you have lost the great divide." You need the divide only when you're driving. You don't need it when you're cooking.

...you have within you not only all the evolutionary past, but another reality altogether, a depth reality. . . . It is the great creative archetypal realm: hyperspacial, hypertemporal, but co-existent with consciousness in some way. The Depth Realm, the realm of gods, goddesses, angels, numinous borderline persons, creative principles, archetypal patterns.

You are the mystery, and the job of the Mystery School is to school you in your own depths.

The problem is that when we lost myth, we lost the rest of the story. We got stuck in television . . . .

I knew all these things and more....once upon a time.

See also New Thought.

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further reading


Gardner, Martin. Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?: Discourses on Reflexology, Numerology, Urine Therapy, and Other Dubious Subjects (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000).


Last updated 13-Feb-2015

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