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Experience of the subtle realms: Contents page


This book was first published as Confessions of a Janus-Brain by Endymion Press, London, 1987. It was revised and extended in 1994, and it is this revised edition which is now (January 2003) published in electronic form. The book is a personal account of my experience of the subtle dimensions of existence. A lot of my reports are about ways in which the subtle realms interact with ordinary life, so that one is effectively living in two sorts of world at once, the subtle ones and the physical one. 

In running workshops in this field, I have been struck by how many people need legitimation for subtle experiences which they have had, but which cannot be categorized in terms of the belief-systems of our dominant culture. In support of this need, it is useful for sensitives to report such experiences in a way which helps to clarify both the nature of them and the issues involved in having them. Hence this book.

In order to be an effective witness, I deal almost exclusively with personal experience. I have sought to give a clear account of it, a basic phenomenology which is true to what seems to have occurred. Alongside this I have tried to develop some kind of simple conceptual framework that makes the whole thing intelligible without falling foul of either excessive scepticism or excessive credulity. There is intermittent theory along the way and it becomes more elaborate in the last four chapters.

I have not wanted to criss-cross the text with references to the diverse experiences and explanatory concepts of others. This comes at a later stage. First and foremost is the need for a sustained and coherent personal statement with which the reader can com­pare and contrast his or her own experience; and this is what I seek to offer.

It seems to me that the brain with its nervous system faces two ways, like Janus, the Roman gods of doors, who looked both in and out, commanding entrance and exit. The brain normally mediates perceptual experience of the physical world, but it can also under suitable conditions refract awareness of a subtle world that is within and beyond the physi­cal world.

It is as though the brain has a double code within it. One code enables us to organize and make sense of the external physical environment. The other code, more deeply buried and guarded within the cortex, empowers us to makes sense – although intermittently and much less systematically – of another kind of universe altogether: an un­seen universe that both interpenetrates and transcends the defining parameters of physical existence.

Experience of this other universe is still subject to considerable cultural repression, which typically operates in several interlocking ways, all of which reduce awareness of the subtle realms to something else. There is reduction to the material: all experience, whatever it appears to be about, refers when properly analysed only to matter in motion in the phsyical world. There is reduction to the psychological: encounters with another world are really nothing but subjective mental events.  There is reduction to the pathological:  claims to extrasensory perception are the hallucinations of a sick mind. And there is reduction to the demonic: impressions from the subtle realms are all the work of the devil.

Of course, some claims to so-called occult experience are just ordinary experience mis­construed, or private phantasy, or deranged delusion, or even sinister possession. But when all experiences of the subtle realms are dismissed by repressive use of one or other of these views, then we have fearful and rigid monopolar thinking defending itself against the fundamental bipolarity of the cortex.

The total reductionist is standing in the doorway of the brain insisting that it be used by him or her and everyone else as an exit only, never as an entrance. The reasons for this repressive stance is an anxious intolerance of ambiguity.  But to own the Janus-like bipolarity of the cortex requires a high tolerance of ambiguity. If the brain has two codes, one for physical experience and one for subtle experience, they can sometimes get mixed up: we can mistake the physical code for the subtle code or vice versa. It takes a certain amount time and patience, and a little bit of courage, to sort this all out.

Also the subtle code may overlap the physical code in certain quite critical ways, but because of restricting belief-systems we are solely aware of the physical code features of the relevant experience. We don’t notice the subtle code aspects on which the physical code features depend for their coherence. When the subtle realms inform the very heart of the way we grasp this world, but we don’t realize this, then we are in trouble indeed in our understanding of what kind of universe we live in.

The first chapter deals with the issue of ambiguity in two world experience. It proposes a simple way of turning such ambiguity into a tool of inquiry.

I am grateful to Mary Corr for support in important inquiries, and to Wiet Palar and Eva Maria Schulte for valuable contributions to the content of Chapter 9. I am indebted to the work of George Adams for prompting a lot of my thinking about the geometry of subtle space; and to the writings and friendship of Lawrence Hyde who many years ago affirmed my seership at a critical time.

If the door of the brain is to swing freely in both directions, opening on to the inner worlds as well as on to the outer world, then it needs well-appointed hinges. The mistress of Janus was Cardea, who was the goddess of door hinges. She was identified by Robert Graves with the White Goddess. He or she who works with the bipolarity of the cortex is wisely her votary.

John Heron


New Zealand  

Experience of the subtle realms: 

Contents page

Chapter 1