Review: Revelation and Incubation (Peter Kingsley, Ignatius Press, 2028)

Peter Kingsley, Revelation and Incubation. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2028.

When Kingsley sets out to write, rigorous argumentation combines with broadness of vision both to inform and change the reader. Truth, as Kingsley claims in his interviews, ought to terrify a subject into knowledge. The dark loneliness, whose stillness is its very horror, is that “spirit of the depths” that alone can plunge a subject into the oneness of being and motivate its communication to others in love. Such, Kingsley argues, was the experience of John of Patmos and to such would Kingsley like to lead his open minded reader.

Revelation and Incubation follows a theme that has occupied Kingsley since his earliest career with the figures of Parmenides and Empedocles. Either is widely heroized as a pioneer in rationality; neither affirms anything like the reason we know today. In the first chapter Kingsley concisely revisits the mysticism at the heart of the Presocratics and the foundations they laid for “Western Philosophy.” The argument, contracted from the material of Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic, runs that the Ancient Greeks practiced incubation. This process, best known for its healing properties when practiced in the temples of Asclepius and Apollo, involved secluding oneself within a place of sensory deprivation and welcoming communion with the divine. Practitioners would very often enter into a dream state which, besides healing whatever afflictions they might have suffered, could reveal to them the unity of existence and enjoin them to share this to others. Parmenides underwent this exactly, which Kingsley has shown from hitherto neglected evidence from Southern Italy that testifies to the philosopher’s Apollonian priesthood as well as clues in the fragments themselves, earlier regarded as concessions to a formulaic poetic schema. John of Patmos followed in this tradition.

There has long been a tradition that Saint John received his revelation in a cave on Patmos, and recent archeological research confirms that cave was a site of veneration since at least the late second century. As well as providing an enclosed space of sensory deprivation, many caves were commonly viewed as portals to the underworld in the cults to Apollo and Ascelepius. The Patmos site may have been one such locus, whose entry conditioned the death to self necessary for divine communication. Only by this dying can the mystic surpass what Parmenides describes as the entirely false opinions of mortals (Frag. 1.30). 

Within these similar conditions, Parmenides and the Revelation author relate a good deal of a shared content to their experience, which Kingsley outlines methodically. At the beginning of their revelations, each of them experiences a sharp sound, compared to either a pipe (Parm. 1.6) or tuba (Rev. 1:10). Through a brilliant incorporation of neurological studies on parapsychology, Kingsley ties these phonai to the screeching sounds subjects tend to hear preceding out of body experiences. That John’s experience is out of body too is suggested by evidence of synesthesia, such as perceiving sound through sight (Rev. 1:12). 

Following this out of body transport, either author glimpses eternity and oneness itself, both veiled (Parm. 1.7 f. and Rev. 1:7) and in fullest splendor (Parm. 1.7 and Rev. 1:16). In subsequent chapters, Kingsley confers the images of horses, chariots, and flight in both visions while skillfully relating them to the contemporary evidence for their recurrence in parapsychological experience. Another chapter compares Johannine numerology to the Pythagoreanism of Parmenides’ milieu. 

The Christian belief that Sacred Scripture is supremely true and unique must not preclude the message of Paul (Rom. 3:29). That in mind, what Hamann said for Socrates must also go for Parmenides, Empedocles, and all who have laid the path for the evangelical revelation: 

Socrates seduced his fellow citizens from the labyrinths of their learned sophists to a truth that lies in hiding, to a secret wisdom, and from the pleasure-altars of their prayerful and politically savvy priests to the service of an unknown God…whoever shall not suffer Socrates to be counted among the prophets must be asked: Who is the father of the prophets? And is our God not called and shown to be a God of the gentiles?

Johann Georg Hamann, Hamann Magus des Norden, Hauptschriften, edited by Otto Mann, (Leipzig: In der Dietrich’schen Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1937), 79-80.

Kingsley’s reevaluation of Parmenides and Empedocles alienated him from most of the academy and I don’t expect his work on St. John to fare much better among contemporary Christians. It is convincing that St. John was embedded in the tradition of incubation that prepared mankind for the Christian message. And yet ultimately, Revelation’s message was not just the nature of truth but its historical import for the coming eschaton. Christians must not simply gaze upon the apocalypse in awe. We must immanentize it ourselves with self-emptying and love. And yet, how are we to make ourselves vessels for the Spirit’s historical mission with no concept of the Spirit’s workings in history? In a classically protreptic manner, Kingsley prods us to see the historical preparations for the incarnation. And thus he provokes us to live the new preparations for the Spirit’s manifestation in the future. 

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