Thursday, 13 May 2010

Hermits Who I Admire

The most profound realisations I have experienced in my life have come to me in isolation. I love the city, the noise, the women, money, beer, food in abundance and all the resources that can be found. Centuries of history, libraries and museums.

The greatest minds of humanity have depended on these hives of activity for inspiration and learning. It is here that ideas are shared and used to shape the world. But those who live in cities know that the noise can drown out the most significant of epiphanies. That's why all the wisest men of history have gone on a pilgrimage into the wilderness.

Nowadays most go on holiday, sit on the beach, eat greasy food and claim to have "gotten away from it all." Some people go on gap years to "find themselves" but they generally follow a well trodden tourist trail in a hot country, get pissed and hang out with other disillusioned middle class Westerners.

This is a list of hermits who I admire. Each of them took a bold step into the void to be one with nature and to better themselves.

Friedrich Nietzsche - This great German philosopher went into the Swiss alps and lived in a boarding house. He described himself as a hermit. a man of the mountains. One day he descended from the Alpine heights to the town of Turin, and was found to be quite mad. He broke down in tears at the site of a man flogging a horse and rushed over to embrace the beast. Isolation creates genius, but also insanity.

Carl Jung
- The founder of modern psychoanalysis and a guru for those who seek to intellectualise the pluralism of spirituality. He was raised in the Swiss alps. Much of his life was spent in the wilderness, either in his rural cottage by a river in Switzerland or exploring Africa, India and Mexico to learn the ways of the gods that are worshipped there and to understand the psychology of man.

Theodore Kaczynski
- A terrifying genius, he excelled academically from an early age and was pronounced a child prodigy. He was asked to be a lecturer at his university after he graduated, but soon tired of it; frustrated with people, and the insane society he lived in. In 1971 he moved to a remote cabin in Lincoln, Montana, without electricity or running water, where he began to learn survival skills in an attempt to become self-sufficient. This all went tits up when new development began eating into the woodland surrounding his little cabin. He was not the type to take this lying down so he began a terrorist bombing campaign, sending 16 bombs to universities and airlines, killing three people and injuring 23. Kaczynski sent a letter to The New York Times on April 24, 1995 and promised "to desist from terrorism" if the Times or The Washington Post published his manifesto. In his Industrial Society and Its Future (also called the "Unabomber Manifesto"), he argued that his bombings were extreme but necessary to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom necessitated by modern technologies requiring large-scale organization.

Timothy Treadwell
- This dude was not a genius. He was a washed up actor and an acid casualty, plus he was totally insane, an idiot and refused to accept the fact that bears eat people. Having said this, his determination and resourcefulness are to be admired. To survive without a gun in the Alaskan wilderness, in a tent amongst wolves and grizzlies, is incredible. Although ultimately this "kind warrior", as he described himself... didn't survive.


Many spiritual disciplines include ritual isolation. This is in keeping with prominent religious figures who preach the value of social isolation and contact with nature.

Jesus Christ - The king of the Jews set off into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. There is a lot of talk of the unleathen bread he ate. LSD is derived from a type of mould that grows on this bread. This whole ordeal has been interpreted by some as Jesus going on a Hunter Thompson style mind bender. Fasting enhances the effects of hallucinogenic drugs and is a major part of many narcotic-related spiritual ceremonies. Jesus looked like a hippy, so this theory seems plausible to me, but The Temptation of Christ has a valuable lesson in it besides "LSD is awesome." The Devil keeps visiting Christ while he is tripping balls in the desert and Jesus resists his offer of comfort and convenience in favour of further suffering.

Buddha - Siddhartha Gautama was a rich boy who snuck out from his palace to mingle with the little people. After witnessing the horrors of existence, from which he had previously been sheltered (poverty, sickness and old ag), he decided he needed to have a bit of a think. He sat under a tree and pondered on the subject of suffering. After many days he achieved Nirvana and Buddhism was created.

Odin / Wotan / Woden - Norse God of war and poetry. He was worshipped everywhere in Northern Europe from England to Finland and as far south as Germany. His is a story of contemplation and sacrifice that is similar to those of both Christ and Buddha. Odin was the wisest of the Gods, but in order to drink from the well of wisdom in the roots of the world tree, he had to pull out one of his own eyes.

This would be enough for some, but old one eye went a step further and hung himself from the world tree for nine days so that he could learn the secret of runes. He sacrificed himself to himself. Runes are what people in Northern Europe used before the Roman alphabet was introduced. They were believed to be magic. He also stabbed himself with his own spear (who knows why?). In the ancient poem, Havamal, Odin has this to say on the subject.

" I know that I hanged on a windy tree
nine long nights
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.
No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn
downward I peered;
I took up the runes, screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there."
Havamal from Poetic Edda
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