Colin Wilson – The Outsider

Magician David Fox pays tribute to a genuis.

‘From a fairly early age, I developed the conviction that most people waste their lives because they see the world falsely… such a person accepts a set of social values without question, like a sheep that never feels curious about what lies on the other side of the hedge.’

Colin Wilson

The great Oscar Wilde once stated that ‘we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars’. Such a profound aphorism readily defines the intriguing personality of one of Britain’s most prolific writers: Colin Wilson. A man who dedicated his life to the pursuit of greater understanding and knowledge; Wilson sought to push the boundaries and venture into areas of study which many (even in the 21st century) would view with scepticism, disdain, and even disgust. Wilson addressed a variety of subjects, from the 1950s onwards, which resided on the hinterland of modern rational twentieth century society. These included: the occult, true crime, sexuality and the psychology of serial killers. Indeed, Wilson seemed naturally motivated to venture into hitherto unexplored realms of  the human psyche, and articulated his findings masterfully and insightfully to his readership.

The publication of ‘The Outsider’ in 1956 quickly brought Wilson much acclaim. His analysis of  famous individuals throughout history who had been predisposed to rebel in one way or another against the prevailing social axioms of their ages, clearly tapped into the prevailing post-second world war zeitgeist. Wilson identified a tremendous sense of social alienation in all of these outsiders, from Vincent Van Gough to Albert Camus, and throughout his life he would remain a champion of existentialist thought and philosophy.

‘Civilisation cannot evolve further until ‘the occult’ is taken for granted on the same level as atomic energy.’

However, it was when Wilson was commissioned to produce an in-depth study of the occult that the focus of his work shifted onto what some would describe as ‘supernatural’. An extensive period of research spawned three seminal works in this area: ‘The Occult’ (1971), ‘Mysteries’ (1978) and ‘Beyond the Occult’  (1988). What is intriguing is that Wilson initially approached this vast subject as a sceptic, but quickly realised that it warranted serious consideration and analysis. The so-called ‘Occult Explosion’ of the 1960s demonstrated the perpetual human urge for deeper self-awareness and spiritual development. The Occident may have created the first nuclear weapons and sent rockets into space, but there appeared to be a spiritual void in the lives of many. Modern science and technology had without doubt alleviated much of life’s immediate problems, but the curious spirit of man knows no boundaries.

‘I believe that the human mind has reached a point in evolution where it is about to develop new powers – powers that would once have been considered magical.’

‘The Occult’ is a wonderful analysis of what some would define as the ‘magical arts’ through the ages. From the ancient Egyptians, to the Kabbalists and modern magicians such as Crowley and Gurdieff, Wilson provides an engaging thesis on an alternative viewpoint of human evolution. He clearly appreciates that from the late 17th Century onwards, cold rationalism began to stifle much of Western man’s potentialities: ‘The science of men like Albertus Magnus, Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus may have been crude and defective but it was based on this instinctive recognition of the psychic links between man and nature. The science of Newton, Huygens and Priestley was incomparably more accurate, but it had lost belief in the invisible links.’ Indeed, much of the evidence that Wilson presents in his studies on the occult surely demonstrates that modern science simply cannot provide satisfactory solutions for much of the phenomena we experience throughout our mortal existence.

‘Magic was not the ‘science’ of the past. It is the science of the future.’

Wilson essentially understood that a human being is far more complex (and potentially infinitely more powerful) than is fully appreciated in the modern technological era. We live most of our lives effectively ensconced within a bubble of accepted ‘facts’, rules, regulations, prejudices and misconceptions about our very existence and place in the universe. If only there was a way out? If only human beings could learn how to emancipate themselves from the often painful existence of mundane life? Wilson defines our largely latent potentialities as ‘Faculty X’ and appreciates that the human mind ‘has always possessed greater powers than we now realise: of telepathy, premonition of danger, second sight, thaumaturgy (the power to heal).’

‘…it is almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that the human mind is a vaster and stranger realm than we ever supposed.’

Wilson explored a myriad of fascinating subjects within the domain of the occult, these include: poltergeist activity, dowsing, spiritualism, ritual magic, life after death and astrology, to name but a few. His written style is highly engaging and he did confess that he saw himself as an author as opposed to a researcher (he was also a prolific novelist). Nonetheless, they do raise serious questions about modern science’s current uneasy relationship with these matters. Wilson has collected a wealth of data from a variety of sources throughout the world which does suggest that there are truly ‘more things in heaven and earth’. Approaching Wilson’s work with an open mind will most certainly provide the inquirer with much food for thought.